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Ludwig van Beethoven


Ludwig van Beethoven - Fidelio

Leonore -- Gwyneth Jones
Florestan -- James King
Don Pizarro -- Gustav Neidlinger
Rocco -- Josef Greindl
Don Fernando -- Martti Talvela
Marzelline -- Olivera Miljakovic
Jaquino -- Donald Grobe
Erster Gefangener -- Barry McDaniel
Zweiter Gefangener -- Manfred Röhrl

Orchestra and Chorus of Deutschen Oper Berlin
Conducted by Karl Böhm
Directed by Gustav Rudolf Sellner

On October 30,1805, Napoleon's armies crossed the border into Austria, and Marshal Bernadotte (later to become Charles XIV, King of Sweden and Norway) occupied Salzburg. Having no panzer divisions, the armies took weeks to reach an undefended Vienna; but after they got there, Napoleon himself occupied the imperial palace at Schonbrunn and instructed his soldiery to treat the citizens with a "correctness" like that exhibited m the following century in Paris by the occupation troops of Hitler. Included in this early-nineteenth- century version of correctness was polite attendance by a scattering of officers at the premiere of Beethoven's Fidelio on November 20. Napoleon himself very likely knew nothing of this important event; in any case, his taste was for lighter music.

The house was half full, the performance a failure. After two repetitions it was temporarily dropped from the repertoire. In March of the following year, after Beethoven had with difficulty been induced to make some cuts and other changes, it was tried again. Once more it failed. Still it was tried once more in the following season, but it attracted—like most of Beethoven’s so-called "difficult" music in those days—only the cognoscenti (i.e., those who could afford the best seats). The composer angrily withdrew the score, tinkered with it on and off, and completely revised it in 1814. Then, with the great Schroeder-Devrient in the title role, it was at last acclaimed.

Thirteen years later, neat death, Вееthoven presented the manuscript of his only opera to his close friend and biographer, Anton Schindler. "Of all my children,” said the dying man, "this is the one that cost me the worst birth-pangs and brought me the most sorrow; and for that reason it is the one most dear to me.”

Ludwig van Beethoven - Fidelio

The poster for the premier of Fidelio at Vienna's Kärtnertortheater



Opera in two acts by Ludwig van Beethoven with libretto in German by Josef Sonnleithner,
based on a French libretto by Jean Nicolas Bouilly.
Sonnleithner's libretto was revised by Stefan von Breuning in 1806
and by Georg Friedrich Treitschke in 1814


Forestan, a Spanish Nobleman

Leonora, his wife, in male attire known as "Fidelio"
Don Fernando, the Prime Minister

Don Pizarro, Governor of the prison

Rocco, chief  jailer 

Marcellina, his daughter 

Jacquino, his assistant 


Time: 18th century
Place: Seville

First performance at Vienna, November 20, 1805




Tenor. A Spanish nobleman, husband of Leonore. Secretly imprisoned by his enemy Pizarro. His wife Leonore dresses as a man (Fidelio) to work at the prison as the gaoler's assistant. She confirms that her husband is the special prisoner being held in a dungeon, whose grave she helps to dig. She manages to give him a little water and bread, but Florestan does not recognize her. She prevents Pizarro stabbing her husband just as the King's Minister arrives to free him and his fellow‐prisoners. Aria: Gott! Welch’ Dunkel hier! (‘God! How dark it is here!’); duet (with Leonore): O namenlose Freude! (‘Oh, nameless joy!’). The role of Florestan demands great vocal stamina from a tenor—the difficult tessitura almost requires a Heldentenor. Famous Florestans have included Enrico Tamberlik, Julius Patzak, Torsten Ralf, Jan Peerce, Wolfgang Windgassen, Ernst Haefliger, Jon Vickers, James McCracken, and Anton de Ridder. Created (1805) by Friedrich Christan Demmer.

Franz Völker, "Gott, welch Dunkel hier", Beethoven: Fidelio- 1933


Soprano. Wife of Florestan. Disguised as a young man, Fidelio, she goes to work as assistant to the gaoler Rocco, determined to save her wrongly Imprisoned husband. Rocco's daughter falls in love with Fidelio. In the dungeon, Leonore realizes it is Florestan who is soon to be killed and whose grave she is helping to dig. She gives the weak man bread and water, but he does not recognize her. She throws herself between him and Pizarro when the latter comes to kill Florestan. She is hailed by all as a heroine and is given the privilege of removing Florestan's chains and setting him free. Aria: Abscheulicher! ('Abominable man!'); duet (with Florestan); О namenlose freude! ('Oh nameless joy!'). Created (1805) by Anna Milder.

Beethoven: Fidelio, Act I Aria "Abscheulicher"

Don Fernando:

Bass. Don Fernando, the King's Minister. He arrives at the gaol in time to free the prisoners, incl. his old friend Florestan. Aria: Der besten König's Wink und Wille (‘At the wish and suggestion of the best of kings’). Created (1805) by Herr Weinkopf.

Don Pizarro:


Baritone. Governor of the prison. He has secretly imprisoned his political enemy Florestan and is determined to kill him before the King's Minister arrives to inspect the gaol. He is foiled by Florestan's wife Leonore who, disguised as a young man, Fidelio, has come to work at the gaol. Aria (with chorus): Ha! Welch ein Augenblick! (‘Ha, what a moment!’). Created (1805) by (Friedrich) Sebastian Mayer.

Walter Berry - Fidelio - Ha! welch ein Augenblick


Bass. Father of Marzelline. He is the chief gaoler at the prison where Pizarro has secretly confined Florestan in the dungeon. Marzelline falls in love with her father's new assistant, Fidelio (Florestan's wife Leonore in disguise). Aria: Hat man nicht auch Gold beineben (‘Unless you have money to hand as well’). Created (1805) by Herr Rothe.

Beethoven ‐ Fidelio∶ Act I No 4 Aria “Hat man nicht auch Gold beineben” Rocco




There are four overtures available to the producer. The one composed firsts and played at the premiere in 1805, is now known as Leonora No. 2. Leonora No. 3 was composed for the March 1806 revision. This one was somewhat simplified for a projected but unrealized performance in Prague the same year; the manuscript was lost until 1832; and when it was found, it was assumed to be the first one Beethoven wrote for the opera. It is therefore called, or miscalled, Leonora No.1. The fourth overture, written for the 1814 performance, is called the Fidelio Overture. It is the one usually used nowadays before Act I and introduces the pleasant opening scene far more appropriately than any of the Leonora overtures would

Leonora No. 3 is often played between the two scenes of Act IL To many critics its anticipation of the musical and dramatic effects in the following scene makes this practice abhorrently inartistic. This overture is so strong, so dramatic, so effective with its off-stage trumpet call (repeated, of course, in the opera) that it needs no stage action to convey, in essence, the musical message of the entire opera. Perhaps that is why Beethoven, having learned from experience in the intervening years, wrote the more modest Fidelio Overture for the final revision; and perhaps that is why this great orchestral poem should be reserved exclusively for the concert hall.


Sometimes this act is divided into two scenes; sometimes, as in the score, it remains undivided. In either case, the action takes place in the home of Rocco, jailer of the prison at Seville. (In the divided productions it begins inside the house and ends in the courtyard; in the undivided ones, it all takes place in the courtyard).

There is a one-sided romance going on between Rocco's daughter Marcellina and Rocco’s assistant, Jacquino. The young man proposes insistently without any encouragement whatsoever from the girl, and also under considerable difficulties. Not only does Marcellina stick to her ironing, but the poor fellow is repeatedly interrupted at his wooing by summonses to open the door he is supposed to be attending. When he has finally left, Marcellina utters a sigh of relief and a very pleasant littile aria (O war ich schon mit dir vereint—"Oh, were we only married now"). Quite frankly she tells us that the man she would like to be married to is Fidelio. What she does not know is that Fidelio is a woman in disguise. She is Leonora, the wife of Florestan, a political prisoner of Pizarro's, the tyrannical Governor of the fortress of Seville. No one knows just where Florestan has been put; but Leonora, suspecting it may be right here, has disguised herself as a man, taken the name of Fidelia, and secured herself a job as first assistant to Rocco. She has been on this job for six months now without finding Florestan, but has won the devoted admiration of both her master and his daughter.

Roccot accompanied by Jacquino, comes in and says that he is expecting Fidelio back from the city with some new chains; and when Fidelio shows up with a particularly sturdy set, he is congratulated. An enchanting quartet is sung, in the form of a canon or rounds in which Marcellina shows that she thinks Fidelio likes her, Fidelio notes Marcellina's affections but cannot approve of them, Rocco thinks they would make a fine couple, and Jacquino fears he may be frozen out. And in simple song Rocco gives some worldly advice to the couple he believes to be virtually engaged: "He who hasn't laid up gold cannot expect a happy life."

In the ensuing dialogue Leonora learns of a prisoner kept so secret that no one but the jailer is allowed to visit him. She is overjoyed when Rocco tells her that, on account of the way work is getting a bit too heavy for him, she may be permitted to help. A trio follows.

It is at this point that many productions change from the inside to the outside of Rocco’s house, and a martial tune in the orchestra gives time for the change of scene. Pizarro enters with a troop of guards and gets his mail from Rocco. One of the letters (as he obligingly informs us by reading it aloud) is a secret warning of a surprise visitation from Don Fernando, the Prime Minister of Spain, who has heard that Pizarro has been misusing bis powers at the expense of others. He summons Rocco and orders the secret prisoner murdered forthwith but secretly, and he offers the gold-loving jailer a bribe. Rocco, accepting it, soothes his conscience by remarking that death is probably better anyway than the slow stamtion the poor fellow has been suffering on orders from Pizarro.

Leonora has been eavesdropping on the latter part of this scheming, and she now sings her great aria Abscheulicher! wo eilst du hin! ("O! thou monstrous fiend!'') and follows it with another one in which she expresses her hope and her faith that God and her love will yet see them through.

After a brief scene in which Marcellina makes it dear to Jacquino that she is not going to many him, but Fidelio, Rocco is persuaded, in the Governor's absence, to give the prisoners some fresh air—a luxury they are very seldom accorded. The wretched men, fearful of the guard on the wall, yet ecstatically happy to breathe the air of heaven, file in slowly and sing the Prisoners' Chorus, a deeply moving projection of the emotions of bewildered sufferers given a temporary taste of freedom.

Rocco returns from his interview with Pizarro and tells Fidelio that he has permission for him to marry Marcellina, but that now they must prepare to dig the grave of the secret prisoner. Leonora is aghast at this news and asks whether he is already dead or whether Rocco is supposed to murder him. Neither, says Rocco: Pizarro will do his own murdering; all they need do is to dig the grave^ He offers to let her off this rather dismal assignment, but Leonora insists on helping the old man even though, in her heart, she feels it must be intended for her husband, Florestan.

Pizarro, having heard of the unauthorized liberty accorded the prisoners, returns to denounce the jailer; but Rocco succeeds in mollifying him through a reference to the man who is about to die. The prisoners are then herded back into their cells; the doors are locked and bolted; and the act ends with soft and ominous sounds in the kettledrums.


Scene 1 In his gloomy dungeon Florestan, chained to a stone, comments, even after two years of uninterrupted tenancy, on the dismal aspect of his apartment- Behind him is a long flight of steps leading to the door that gives entry to that part of the prison. He then sings his moving aria In des Lebens Fruhlingstagen ("In the springtime days of life"), in which he mourns his lost and courageous youth, resigns himself to a death that cannot be far off, and imagines he sees an angel, in the shape of Leonora, leading him up to heaven. Then he sleeps.

Rocco and Fidelio come in, prepared to dig the grave in a cistern by the side of the cell. The scene is composed in what is technically and literally "melodrama": that is, spoken dialogue is carried on, and the orchestra plays snatches of music. As they work, Leonora tries to catch a glimpse of the prisoner's features, but she cannot be sure that it is her husband, even when Rocco speaks with him and offers him a drink of wine. A few moments later, however, she is sure; and when she offers him a crust of bread, she can barely stand it that even her beloved Florestan does not recognize her. Pitifully, in a sweet melody, he thanks the assistant jailer for the deed of mercy.

Now Rocco gives a whistle, the agreed-upon signal to Pizarro, and Florestan, having at last learned who has sent him to this place, suspects that his life is threatened. Pizarro descends the stairs, throws back his cloak, and gloats for a moment over Florestan, who prepares for his own death with consummate dignity and courage. But just as Pizarro, dagger drawn, is about to hurl himself at Florestan, Leonora throws herself between them, crying, “First kill his wife!” Everyone is astonished; and when Pizarro prepares to do a double murder, Leonora pulls a pistol from her doublet and covers him.

At that moment, off-stage, is heard the trumpet call which everyone remembers from the frequent performances of the Leonora No. 3 overture. A moment of silence, another snatch from the overture music, and the trumpet call rings out again, nearer this time. Jacquino rushes down to bring the news that the Prime Minister is at the gates. There is a short quartet; Pizarro and Rocco leave; and the scene usually closes with the joyful duet in which husband and wife are reunited.

In the score and the libretto there is a short spoken scene after the duet in wnich Rocco returns and tells of the list of prisoners submitted to the Prime Minister, which does not contain Florestan's name, showing that be was a victim of the private vengeance of Pizarro. As this scene is not strictly necessary for the drama, and as the spoken dialogue makes a much tamer scene ending, the curtain customarily is lowered after the Leonora-Florestan duet.

Scene 2 In the brief final scene, the Prime Minister, Don Fernando, addresses the assembled prisoners and townspeople on the mercy of the King, recognizes Florestan and Leonora as old friends, and orders Pizarro led away in chains. The opera closes with a general chorus in praise or Leonora and of conjugal love, which is the theme of the whole work. 

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