Fidelio, Opera by Ludwig van Beethoven
Ludwig van Beethoven’s sole opera took him a decade to perfect. Before Fidelio, there was Leonore, oder Der Triumph der eheliche Liebe, the composer’s first attempt in the genre. The three-act opera’s debut in Vienna at Theater an der Wien on 20 November 1805 was met with mixed feelings by a largely French military audience. Beethoven quickly got to abridging the lengthy original libretto by Joseph Sonnleithner. Thanks to Stephan von Breuning, Leonore was shortened to two acts the following year and enjoyed some more success, but Beethoven still did not see his vision fully realised.
With the assistance of Georg Friedrich Treitschke, Fidelio was finally born, and its debut at Vienna’s Kärntnertortheater on 23 May 1814 marked its firm place in the opera catalogue. Gran Teatro La Fenice in Venice revives the Beethoven classic this season. Not only is the score of Fidelio full of the German composer’s signature melodic and harmonic hooks. The plot is in line with Beethoven’s life philosophy and tells the tale of love’s triumph over tyranny and political oppression.
The duality between Fidelio and Leonore in the opera’s different versions is deeply rooted in the storyline. Leonore is the faithful wife of Florestan, a political prisoner on death row. Through clever trickery, elaborate disguise, and admirable coolness of mind, she transforms into the prison guard Fidelio and descends into the dungeon to help liberate her husband. The action-packed storyline is complemented by Beethoven’s bold melodies and finely tuned dramatic sensibility. Choruses and arias overflow with emotion and celebrate love in its many forms – from marital union to liberty and self-determination. On the stage of Gran Teatro La Fenice, Fidelio is a veritable triumph indeed. Keep your ears opened for the classic Prisoner’s Chorus as well as throughout the breath-taking cadence of the prison escape where solo and ensemble pieces chart an emotional spectrum that only a genius like Beethoven could devise.