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Fidelio (originally titled Leonore, oder Der Triumph der ehelichen Liebe; English: Leonore, or The Triumph of Marital Love),
The libretto, with some spoken dialogue, tells how Leonore, disguised as a prison guard named "Fidelio",
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The work has a long and complicated history of composition: it went through three versions during Beethoven's career, and some of the music was first written as part of an earlier, never-completed opera.
The distant origin of Fidelio dates from 1803, when the librettist and impresario
The time Beethoven spent on Vestas Feuer was not entirely wasted, as two important numbers from Fidelio, Pizarro's "'Ha! Welch’ ein Augenblick!" and the duet "O namenlose Freude" for Leonora and Florestan, both originated as music for Vestas Feuer. Beethoven remained as a resident of the Theater an der Wien for some time after he had abandoned Vestas Feuer for Fidelio, and was eventually freed from his obligations to Schikaneder when the latter was fired from his post as theater director in 1804.
Fidelio itself, which Beethoven began in 1804 immediately after giving up on Vestas Feuer, was first performed in 1805 and was extensively revised by the composer for subsequent performances in 1806 and 1814. Although Beethoven used the title Leonore, oder Der Triumph der ehelichen Liebe ("Leonore, or The Triumph of Married Love"), the 1805 performances were billed as Fidelio at the theatre's insistence, to avoid confusion with the 1798 opera Léonore, ou L’amour conjugal by
The first version with a three-act German
After this premiere, Beethoven was pressured by friends to revise and shorten the opera into just two acts, and he did so with the help of Stephan von Breuning. The composer also wrote a new overture (now known as "Leonore No. 3"; see below). In this form the opera was first performed on 29 March and 10 April 1806, with greater success. Further performances were prevented by a dispute between Beethoven and the theatre management.
In 1814 Beethoven revised his opera yet again, with additional work on the libretto by
Although critics have noted the similarity in plot with
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 full score was not published until 1826, and all three versions are known as Beethoven's Opus 72.
The first performance outside Vienna took place in Prague on 21 November 1814, with a revival in Vienna on 3 November 1822. In its two-act version, the opera was staged in London on 18 May 1832 at the
Fidelio was the first opera performed in Berlin after the end of the World War II, with the
[T]he conjugal love of Leonore appears, to the modern individual armed with realism and psychology, irremediably abstract and theoretical.... Now that political events in Germany have restored to the concepts of human dignity and liberty their original significance, this is the opera which, thanks to the music of Beethoven, gives us comfort and courage.... Certainly, Fidelio is not an opera in the sense we are used to, nor is Beethoven a musician for the theater, or a dramaturgist. He is quite a bit more, a whole musician, and beyond that, a saint and a visionary. That which disturbs us is not a material effect, nor the fact of the 'imprisonment'; any film could create the same effect. No, it is the music, it is Beethoven himself. It is this 'nostalgia of liberty' he feels, or better, makes us feel; this is what moves us to tears. His Fidelio has more of the Mass than of the Opera to it; the sentiments it expresses come from the sphere of the sacred, and preach a 'religion of humanity' which we never found so beautiful or necessary as we do today, after all we have lived through. Herein lies the singular power of this unique opera.... Independent of any historical consideration ... the flaming message of Fidelio touches deeply.
We realize that for us Europeans, as for all men, this music will always represent an appeal to our conscience.
On 5 November 1955, the
The first night of Fidelio at the