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Home>Beethoven Music>The Opera Fidelio

Beethoven's Opera Fidelio

The Origins of the Opera

In 1803, Beethoven receives an order for an opera from the Viennese Theatre on a libretto entitled Alexander the Great, with the action taking place in India. Beethoven does not manage to finish the opera, so, at the beginning of 1804 Schiknadeder suggests another libretto with a French subject adapted by Sonnleithner – Conjugal Love or Lenora. The German text is written by Sonnleithner and was the original source of the 1805 version, but Beethoven changed the work after only three representations in 1806. For a long time the opera was no longer performed, but it was later resumed under a new version, which remained official and which brought the composer his celebrity in this field.

The subject of the opera Fidelio

The main character Florestan found himself locked in an unfathomable underground cell, without holding any blame. He had once denounced the illegalities of the governor and, as a result, latter took revenge by condemning him to death by starvation. Leonora, Florestan’s wife, finding out about her husband’s tragic fate, dresses up as a man, names herself Fidelio, goes under the service of Rocco, the guardian of the fortress. She decides to see her husband and save him.
Don Pizzarro, the criminal governor, learns that the news of his ill doings reached even Seville and that Minister don Ferdinando, Folrestan’s friend, whom he thought dead was personally coming to investigate Pizzarro’s activity. He gives order to the guardian of the fortress, Rocco, to kill Florestan, but he refuses, so he decides to murder the prisoner himself. Rocco and Fidelio leave together to dig the prisoner’s grave. Leonora does not recognize Florestan in the dark, where he was wearily sleeping.
Only after he awakes she recognizes her husband. Going after them in the underground dungeon, Pizzarro wants to kill Florestan but Leonora comes between them and says: “Kill the wife first!” Pizzarro’s is stricken with awe and misses his chance. The sound of the bugle makes its way into the dungeon announcing the arrival of the Minister. In the city square, where a large crowd had gathered in the meantime, the Minister recognizes Florestan and immediately becomes aware of Pizzarro’s ill doings. Everyone is excited about Leonora’s courage.

The Overtures

Four overtures were written for this opera. The first one was written in 1805 but it was never executed because prince Lichnowsky didn’t like it. Hence a second version was composed in 1806 – Leonora no 2. Even though this overture brings many elements of novelty, it was misunderstood by the public, so Beethoven finds himself compelled to write a third version – Leonora no 3 – the one that was to become famous.
     This overture is sometimes executed as an interval at the middle of act two between the dungeon scene and the public square one. Due to the musical-dramatic expressivity, this overture earned its place amongst the symphonic concerts and is considered to be a genuine symphonic poem.

Act I

As a compositional method, Beethoven chose a mixed genre of opera, comprising both typical scenes of comical opera and touching arias and recitals in a tragic-heroic style. Act I has ten musical sections, the first ones being typical to the comical opera. The musical drama begins with Pizzarro’s aria who swears to destroy Florestan. Leonora’s aria, expressing her revolt and anger towards the tyrant, constitutes itself as the dramatic summit of act I.

    Continue to Part II of the analisys.

Read more about Beethoven's music
  • Beethoven Symphonies - Each of the nine Beethoven symphonies analyzed.
  • The piano sonatas - Analysis of the sonata form and the most important Beethoven Piano Sonatas.
  • Sonatas for Cello and Piano - Discussion about Beethoven's five cello and piano sonatas.
  • Sonatas for Violin and Piano - Overview of Beethoven's ten sonatas for violin and piano.
  • String Quartets - Brief analysis of Beethoven's seventeen string quartets.
  • Trios - General discussion regarding Beethoven's trios for various instruments and ensembles.
  • The Concertos - Beethoven's five piano concertos, his violin concerto and triple concerto analyzed.
  • The Overtures - Brief overview of some of the most important Beethoven overtures.
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  Best 5 Beethoven Books on Amazon

1. Beethoven: The Universal Composer by Edmund Morris;

2. Beethoven by Maynard Solomon;

3. Beetoven: The Music and the Life by Lewis Lockwood;

4. Late Beethoven: Music, Thought, Imagination by Maynard Solomon;

5. Beethoven as I Knew Him by Anton Felix Schindler;

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