Fidelio

Fidelio
Opera by Ludwig van Beethoven
Fidelio18140523.jpg
Fidelio, playbill of the third and finalized premiere at the Kärntnertortheater in Vienna, 23 May 1814
LibrettistOriginally prepared by Joseph Sonnleithner, from the French of Jean-Nicolas Bouilly. Later shortened by Stephan von Breuning [de] and edited by Georg Friedrich Treitschke.
LanguageGerman
Premiere
Original premiere 20 November 1805 (1805-11-20); reworked version 29 March 1806 (1806-03-29); finalized version 23 May 1814 (1814-05-23).
First two premieres at Theater an der Wien, Vienna. Finalized version at Kärntnertortheater, Vienna

Fidelio (originally titled Leonore, oder Der Triumph der ehelichen Liebe; English: Leonore, or The Triumph of Marital Love),[1] Op. 72, is Ludwig van Beethoven's only opera. The German libretto was originally prepared by Joseph Sonnleithner from the French of Jean-Nicolas Bouilly, with the work premiering at Vienna's Theater an der Wien on 20 November 1805. The following year, Stephan von Breuning [de] helped shorten the work from three acts to two. After further work on the libretto by Georg Friedrich Treitschke, a final version was performed at the Kärntnertortheater on 23 May 1814. By convention, both of the first two versions are referred to as Leonore.

The libretto, with some spoken dialogue, tells how Leonore, disguised as a prison guard named "Fidelio", rescues her husband Florestan from death in a political prison. Bouilly's scenario fits Beethoven's aesthetic and political outlook: a story of personal sacrifice, heroism, and eventual triumph. With its underlying struggle for liberty and justice mirroring contemporary political movements in Europe, such topics are typical of Beethoven's "middle period". Notable moments in the opera include the "Prisoners' Chorus" (O welche Lust—"O what a joy"), an ode to freedom sung by a chorus of political prisoners, Florestan's vision of Leonore come as an angel to rescue him, and the scene in which the rescue finally takes place. The finale celebrates Leonore's bravery with alternating contributions of soloists and chorus.

Composition and performance history

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 Emanuel Schikaneder worked out a contract with Beethoven to write an opera. The contract included free housing for Beethoven in the apartment complex that was part of Schikaneder's large suburban theater, the Theater an der Wien. Beethoven was to set a new libretto by Schikaneder, entitled Vestas Feuer; however, this libretto was not to Beethoven's liking. He spent about a month composing music for it, then abandoned it when the libretto for Fidelio came to his attention.

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.

The theatrical mask contemplated by a putto on the Beethoven monument by Kaspar von Zumbusch (Vienna, 1880) commemorates Beethoven's sole opera in the city where it made its debut

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 Pierre Gaveaux, and the 1804 opera Leonora by Ferdinando Paer (a score of which was owned by Beethoven). Beethoven published the 1806 libretto and, in 1810, a vocal score under the title Leonore, and the current convention is to use the name Leonore for both the 1805 (three-act) and 1806 (two-act) versions and Fidelio only for the final 1814 revision.

The first version with a three-act German libretto adapted by Joseph Sonnleithner from the French of Jean-Nicolas Bouilly premiered at the Theater an der Wien on 20 November 1805, with additional performances the following two nights. The success of these performances was hindered by the fact that Vienna was under French military occupation, and most of the audience were French military officers.

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 Georg Friedrich Treitschke. This version was first performed at the Kärntnertortheater on 23 May 1814, again 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 a great success, and Fidelio has been part of the operatic repertory ever since.

Although critics have noted the similarity in plot with Gluck's opera Orfeo ed Euridice—the underground rescue mission in which the protagonist must control, or conceal, his emotions in order to retrieve his or her spouse,[2] we do not know whether or not Beethoven or any of the librettists had this in mind while constructing the opera.

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."[3]

The full score was not published until 1826, and all three versions are known as Beethoven's Opus 72.[4]

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 King's Theatre, and in New York on 9 September 1839 at the Park Theatre.[5]

In the wake of World War II

Florestan (Günther Treptow) and Leonore (Karina Kutz); September 1945, Deutsche Oper Berlin

Fidelio was Arturo Toscanini's first complete opera performance to be broadcast in the USA, over the NBC radio network, in December 1944, by the NBC Symphony Orchestra, featuring soloists from the Metropolitan Opera (though a shortwave broadcast of one act, conducted by Toscanini, had earlier been relayed from a 16 August 1936 performance at Salzburg). Divided into two consecutive broadcasts, the 1944 performances were later issued by RCA Victor on LPs and CDs.[6]

Fidelio was the first opera performed in Berlin after the end of the World War II, with the Deutsche Oper staging it under the baton of Robert Heger at the only undamaged theatre, the Theater des Westens, in September 1945.[7] At the time, Thomas Mann remarked: "What amount of apathy was needed [by musicians and audiences] to listen to Fidelio in Himmler's Germany without covering their faces and rushing out of the hall!"[8]

Not long after the end of World War II and the fall of Nazism, conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler remarked in Salzburg in 1948:

[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.[9]

On 5 November 1955, the Vienna State Opera was re-opened with Fidelio, conducted by Karl Böhm. This performance was the first live television broadcast by ORF at a time when there were about 800 television sets in Austria.

The first night of Fidelio at the Semperoper in Dresden on 7 October 1989 on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the DDR (East Germany) coincided with violent demonstrations at the city's main train station. The applause after the "Prisoners' Chorus" interrupted the performance for considerable time, and the production by Christine Mielitz [de] had the chorus appear in normal street clothes at the end, signifying their role as representatives of the audience.[10] Four weeks later, on 9 November 1989, the fall of the Berlin Wall signalled the end of East Germany's regime.

Other Languages
Alemannisch: Fidelio
العربية: فيديليو
català: Fidelio
čeština: Fidelio
dansk: Fidelio
Deutsch: Fidelio
Ελληνικά: Φιντέλιο
español: Fidelio
Esperanto: Fidelio
فارسی: فیدلیو
français: Fidelio
galego: Fidelio
한국어: 피델리오
հայերեն: Ֆիդելիո
italiano: Fidelio
עברית: פידליו
ქართული: ფიდელიო
magyar: Fidelio
Nederlands: Fidelio
日本語: フィデリオ
norsk: Fidelio
occitan: Fidelio
polski: Fidelio
português: Fidelio
română: Fidelio
Runa Simi: Fidelio
русский: Фиделио
Scots: Fidelio
Simple English: Fidelio
slovenščina: Fidelio
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Fidelio
suomi: Fidelio
svenska: Fidelio
Türkçe: Fidelio
українська: Фіделіо
Tiếng Việt: Fidelio
中文: 费德里奥