Fidelio (Op. 72) is an opera in two acts by Ludwig van Beethoven. It is Beethoven's only opera. The German libretto is by Joseph von Sonnleithner from the French of Jean-Nicolas Bouilly. The opera tells how Leonore, disguised as a prison guard named "Fidelio", rescues her husband Florestan from death in a political prison.
The opera is a central work of Beethoven's so-called "middle period," and like some of Beethoven's music of this time it emphasizes heroism. Bouilly's story probably attracted Beethoven for the opportunities it offered in portraying heroism in the main characters. The story also engaged Beethoven's strong feelings about the struggle for political liberty that was taking place in Europe in his day.
As elsewhere in Beethoven's vocal music, the music is not especially kind to the singers. The principal parts of Leonore and Florestan, in particular, require great vocal skill and endurance in order to project the necessary intensity, and top performances in these roles attract admiration.
Some notable moments in the opera include the "Prisoners' Chorus", an ode to freedom sung by a chorus of political prisoners, Florestan's hallucinating vision of Leonore come as an angel to rescue him, and the highly melodramatic scene in which the rescue finally takes place. The finale celebrates Leonore's bravery with alternating contributions of soloists and chorus.
In 1814 Beethoven revised his opera yet again, with additional work on the libretto by Georg Friedrich Treitschke. This version was first performed at the Kärtnertortheater on 23 May 1814, under the title Fidelio. The 17-year-old Franz Schubert was in the audience, having sold his school books to obtain a ticket. The increasingly deaf Beethoven led the performance, "assisted" by Michael Umlauf, who later performed the same task for Beethoven at the premiere of the Ninth Symphony. The role of Pizarro was taken by Johann Michael Vogl, who later became known for his collaborations with Schubert. This version of the opera was, finally, a great success for Beethoven, and Fidelio has been an important part of the operatic repertory ever since.
Beethoven cannot be said to have enjoyed the difficulties posed by writing and producing an opera. In a letter to Treitschke he said, 'I assure you, dear Treitschke, that this opera will win me a martyr's crown. You have by your co-operation saved what is best from the shipwreck. For all this I shall be eternally grateful to you.'
The opera was published in all three versions, as Beethoven's Opus 72.
Gustav Mahler introduced the practice, common until the middle of the twentieth century, of performing Leonore No. 3 between the two scenes of the second act, and some conductors still perform it there. In this location, it acts as a kind of musical reprise of the rescue scene that has just taken place. A new, modern-styled production that premiered in Budapest in October 2008, for example, features the Leonore 3 overture in this location .
|Role||Voice type||Premiere Cast,|
November 20, 1805
(Conductor: Ludwig van Beethoven)
May 23, 1814
(Conductor: Michael Umlauf)
|Florestan, a prisoner||tenor||Friedrich Christian Demmer||Giulio Radichi|
|Leonore, his wife||soprano||Anna Milder||Anna Milder-Hauptmann|
|Rocco, gaoler||bass||Rothe||Carl Friedrich Weinmüller|
|Marzelline, his daughter||soprano||Louise Müller Theresa Bondra|
|Jaquino, assistant to Rocco||tenor||Caché||Früwald|
|Don Pizarro, governor of the prison||bass-baritone||Sebastian Mayer||Johann Michael Vogl|
|Don Fernando, King's minister||bass||Weinkopf||Ignaz Saal|
|Two prisoners||Tenor and Bass||Unknown||Unknown|
|Soldiers, prisoners, townspeople|
Note: the second version of the opera premiered on March 29 1806 with the same cast as the first premiere, except with Joseph August Röckel as Florestan. The only other performance of the second version was on April 10 1806.
All but Rocco leave. A march is played as Pizarro enters with guards. Rocco gives Pizarro a message with a warning that the minister plans a surprise visit tomorrow to investigate accusations that Pizarro is a tyrant. Pizarro exclaims that he cannot let the minister discover the imprisoned Don Florestan, who has been thought dead. Instead, Pizarro will murder Florestan (Ha, welch ein Augenblick! ["Hah! What a moment!"]). Pizarro orders that a trumpet be sounded at the minister's arrival. He offers Rocco money to kill Florestan, but Rocco refuses (Jetzt, Alter, jetzt hat es Eile! ["Now, Old One, we must hurry!"]), and instead Pizarro orders him to dig a grave in the ruined well in the dungeons. Leonore has seen Pizarro plotting, but has not overheard what he said. She is agitated, but thoughts of her husband calm her down (Abscheulicher! Wo eilst du hin? ... Komm, Hoffnung, lass den letzten Stern ["Scum! Where are you going? ... Come hope, let the last star"]).
Jaquino begs Marzelline to marry him, but she refuses. Leonore, hoping to find Florestan, asks Rocco to let the poor prisoners roam in the garden and enjoy the beautiful weather. Marzelline also begs him, and Rocco agrees to distract Pizarro while the prisoners are set free. The prisoners, overjoyed at their freedom, sing joyfully (O welche Lust ["O what a joy"]), but, remembering that they could be caught, are soon quiet. Rocco reenters and tells Leonore of his success with Pizarro: Pizarro will allow the marriage, and Leonore will be permitted to join Rocco on his rounds in the dungeon (Nun sprecht, wie ging's? ["Speak, how did it go?"]). They prepare to go to the cell of a poor man who, says Rocco, must be killed and buried within the hour. Leonore is so shaken that Rocco tries to persuade her to stay behind, but she insists on coming. As they prepare to leave, Jaquino and Marzelline rush in and tell Rocco to run: Pizarro has learned that the prisoners are free, and he is furious (Ach, Vater, Vater, eilt! ["O, father, father, hurry!"]). Before they can move, Pizarro enters and demands an explanation. Rocco pretends that they are celebrating the King's naming day, and suggests quietly that Pizarro save his anger for the prisoner in the dungeons below. Pizarro tells him to hurry and dig the grave, then announces that the prisoners will be shut in again. Rocco, Leonore, Jacquino, and Marzelline reluctantly usher the prisoners back to their cells. (Leb wohl, du warmes Sonnenlicht ["Adieu, warm sunshine"]
Pizarro appears and asks if everything is ready. Rocco says that it is and tells Leonore to leave, but instead she hides. Pizarro reveals his identity to Florestan, who accuses him of murder (Er sterbe! Doch er soll erst wissen ["Let him die! But first he should know"]). As Pizarro brandishes a dagger, Leonore leaps between him and Florestan and declares that before he kills Florestan, Pizarro must first kill his wife. Pizarro delights in the chance to kill both of them, but Leonore produces a pistol.
Just then the trumpet is heard, announcing the arrival of the minister. Jaquino enters, followed by soldiers, to announce that the minister is waiting at the gate. Rocco tells the soldiers to escort Governor Pizarro upstairs. Florestan and Leonore sing to their victory as Pizarro declares he will have revenge and Rocco expresses his fear of what is to come (Es schlägt der Rache Stunde ["Revenge's bell tolls"]). Together, Florestan and Leonore sing a love duet (O namenlose Freude! ["O unnamed joy!"]).
Here Overture to Leonore No. 3 is sometimes played.
The prisoners and townsfolk sing to the day and hour of justice which has come (Heil sei dem Tag! ["Hail to the day!"]). The minister, Don Fernando, announces that tyranny has ended. Rocco enters, with Leonore and Florestan, and he asks Don Fernando to help them (Wohlan, so helfet! Helft den Armen! ["So help! Help the poor ones!"]). Rocco explains how Leonore disguised herself as Fidelio to save her husband. Marzelline is shocked. Rocco describes Pizarro's murder plot, and Pizarro is led away to prison. Florestan is released from his chains by Leonore, and the crowd sings the praises of Leonore, the loyal savior of her husband (Wer ein holdes Weib errungen ["Who has got a good wife"]).