Ludwig van Beethoven (born Bonn, 15 or 16 December 1770; died Vienna, 26 March 1827)
Josef Sonnleithner revised by Friedrich Treitschke.
Léonore, ou L’amour conjugale (1798) by Jean-Nicolas Bouilly, set by Pierre Gaveaux.
First performance: Vienna (Theater an der Wien), 20 November 1805.
First performance (final version): Vienna (Kärntnertor-theater), 23 May 1814.
First UK performance: London (King’s Theatre, Haymarket), 18 May 1832.
First performance in Scotland: Glasgow (), 7 November 1853.
Scottish Opera première: Glasgow (King’s Theatre), 1 May 1970.
Beethoven struggled for most of his career to find suitable subjects for opera, and the only one he completed, Fidelio, is invariably recognised as one of the most important works in the repertoire. The history of Fidelio is tortuous. The opera started in 1805 as Leonore, using a 3-act German translation of an Italian version, recently set by both Ferdinando Paer (Dresden 1804) and Simone Mayr (Padua 1805), of Bouilly’s original French libretto. It was not a success, and a few months later, Beethoven altered it with the help of another librettist, Stefan von Breuning, cutting it to two acts and changing several details, including the overture. The final version of 1814 had a text further revised by Treitschke and was at last considered a success. The opera has been performed regularly ever since. It is difficult to perform well, but has gained a unique status as a piece to be performed on important occasions.
Rocco, the chief jailer (bass)
Marzelline, his daughter (soprano)
Jaquino, Rocco’s assistant (tenor)
Florestan, a Spanish nobleman (tenor)
Leonore, his wife, disguised as a boy, Fidelio (soprano)
Don Pizarro, prison governor (baritone)
Don Fernando, a government minister (baritone)
The setting is a prison near Seville in the late eighteenth century, Florestan has disappeared without trace, and is secretly imprisoned by his enemy, Pizarro. Florestan’s wife has traced him to the prison, and, disguised as a boy, has obtained work as an assistant jailer. While she devotes her efforts to detecting any word of her husband’s whereabouts, she finds herself the object of Marzelline’s affections, and therefore of Jaquino’s jealousy. Rocco is persuaded by Fidelio to let the prisoners out of their cells for exercise, but Florestan is not among them, and Pizarro is infuriated by this flouting of his orders. However Leonore overhears a reference by Pizarro to a secret prisoner who is to be disposed of before the Government Inspector arrives – she has her chance at last. Rocco is ordered to prepare a grave for Florestan in his dungeon, and takes Fidelio to assist him. When Pizarro comes down to carry out the murder he is prevented by Leonore, who identifies herself as Florestan’s wife. At this crisis point, trumpets are heard proclaiming the arrival of Don Fernando, who is an old friend of Florestan. Leonore is allowed to release him, and Pizarro is himself arrested as the people rush in to celebrate liberty.
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