Discovering Fidelio

Tuesday, 12 October, 2021
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Did you know that Fidelio is Beethoven’s only opera? Read on to discover more about this fascinating opera and composer.

Fidelio – What’s it all about?

Well, it’s opera, so there’s a lot going on, but in a nutshell…

Fidelio, inspired by a true story from the French Revolution, is an opera which tells a story of love, resilience and triumph.

Set in a prison, the opera follows Leonore’s quest to free her husband who has been cruelly imprisoned by his rival, Don Pizarro. Disguising herself as a man called Fidelio, Leonore infiltrates the prison in an effort to get closer to her husband, befriending the prison guard Rocco and attracting the unwanted attentions of his daughter Marzelline.

Alone in his cell, Florestan dreams of Leonore as he is slowly starved to death. Don Pizarro arrives, intent on murder, but Leonore intervenes with a pistol, revealing her identity and protecting her husband. Leonore and Florestan embrace each other with delight and sing of their love as they are finally reunited. Don Pizarro is arrested while Florestan and the other prisoners rejoice in their freedom, cheering the wonderful Leonore.

Who composed it?

Ludwig van Beethoven, one of the most famous composers and pianists of all time. Born in Germany in 1770, he was incredibly prolific, writing his first composition at the age of 11 and continuing to compose until his death in 1827, completing a total of 722 works overall.

Throughout his career, Beethoven’s hearing drastically deteriorated. Interestingly, this did not hinder his potential as he could still distinguish between sounds and used the vibrations of the piano to guide his composing.

One of his most famous works is his Fifth Symphony. Even if you’re completely new to classical music, you’ll know this one…

Beethoven and Opera

Fidelio was the only opera ever composed by Beethoven, and it was no easy task. Originally titled Leonore, it took him a decade to compose, resulting in three different versions of the opera (and no less than four versions of the overture). It is reported that Fidelio was the most frustrating work for the composer as it premiered and failed twice. For the third and final version, Beethoven enlisted the help of librettist, Georg Friedrich Treitschke whom he complimented, “You have by your co-operation saved what is best from the shipwreck. For all this I shall be eternally grateful to you”.

Despite being compounded by difficulties during its composition, Fidelio has become one of today’s much loved opera classics and a staple of the modern repertoire.

What to Expect from The Music of Fidelio

Fidelio is known as one of the most beautiful scores ever composed for opera, perfectly capturing the emotions felt by each character - sentiments of love, compassion and pain are all felt and reflected in the musical scoring.

One of the great quartets in the operatic repertoire, ‘Mir ist so wunderbar’ sung by Marzelline, Leonore, Joaquin and Rocco tells of the love Marzelline holds for Fidelio in some of the most beautiful music to be found in the opera.

The music written for Leonore reflects her resilience and determination in rescuing her husband. The aria, ‘Abscheulicher!...Komm Hoffnung’ is a perfect example of this, particularly due to the use horn accompaniment.

The duet, ‘O namenlose Freude’, captures the joyous occasion shared between Florestan and Leonore as they are finally reunited.