Fidelio was Beethoven’s only opera. This doesn’t mean that he wasn’t a lover of opera. He grew up with it in Bonn where was lucky enough to sneak into performances at the local opera house. He was a great fan of Italian opera and became a fan of what was kind of a rage, the “rescue opera”. Brought on by the spirit of revolution that was sweeping both the Old World and the New World, the theme was that somehow a person was unjustly captured and imprisoned for political reasons and what was through the force of good able to see the light of day once again. As you know by now, this fits in perfectly with Beethoven’s vision of the nobility and its relationship to the common man. As was mentioned once before here, Beethoven once commented to someone, I believe Goethe, that “we should never step aside for nobility to pass, they should step aside for us for we are artists; they were merely born to their position where as we achieved ours.”
Fidelio originally titled Leonore, oder Der Triumph der ehelichen Liebe (Leonore, or The Triumph of Marital Love) is such a “rescue opera”. Let me insert here a link to an excellent synopsis of the plot:
As we mentioned last week in our discussions of the overtures, Beethoven labored with the opera from its first performance in 1805 to its first revision in 1806 to his final version in 1814. But how wonderful it is! Perhaps the section that moves me the most occurs at the end of Act 1 when the prisoners are let out of their dungeon to the courtyard where they see daylight for the first time since their long imprisonment. The symbolism of that moment aligns perfectly with Beethoven’s soul and sensibilities.
I will include a couple of links to complete performances of yet another one of our Maestro’s masterpieces.
Fidelio Bernstein, Vienna State Opera
Fidelio Furtwangler, Vienna State Opera (1953)