Fidelio

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Fidelio (Op. 72) is a German opera in two acts by Ludwig van Beethoven. It is Beethoven's only opera. The German libretto is by Joseph Sonnleithner from the French of Jean-Nicolas Bouilly which had been used for the 1798 opera Léonore, ou L’amour conjugal by Pierre Gaveaux, and for the 1804 opera Leonora by Ferdinando Paer (a score of which was owned by Beethoven). The opera tells how Leonore, disguised as a prison guard named "Fidelio", rescues her husband Florestan from death in a political prison.

Contents

Background

Bouilly's scenario fits Beethoven's aesthetic and political outlook: a story of personal sacrifice, heroism and eventual triumph (the usual topics of Beethoven's "middle period") with its underlying struggle for liberty and justice mirroring contemporary political movements in Europe.

As elsewhere in Beethoven's vocal music, the music is not especially kind to the singers. The principal parts of Leonore and Florestan, in particular, require great vocal skill and endurance in order to project the necessary intensity, and top performances in these roles attract admiration.

Some notable moments in the opera include the "Prisoners' Chorus", 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.

Performance history

Like many other works in Beethoven's career, Fidelio went through several versions before achieving full success. The opera was first produced in a three-act version Vienna's Theater an der Wien, on November 20, 1805, with additional performances the following two nights. While this earlier version is sometimes referred to as Leonore in order to distinguish it from the final two-act version, this is incorrect as it was premiered as Fidelio.

The success of these performances was greatly 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 March 29 and April 10, 1806, with greater success. Further performances were prevented by a dispute between Beethoven and the theater management.

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