Wednesday, 10 December 2008

212. Ludwig van Beethoven - Fidelio (1814)


Title: Fidelio
Performers: Christa Ludwig, Jon Vickers
Director: Otto Klemperer
Year: 1962
Length: 1 hour 50 minutes


The plot of this, the only Beethoven opera, is mildly interesting, a rescue opera where the hero is saved by his disguised wife. There is an interesting political content to it, being about political prisoners and freedom of speech, a level of plot not apparent before in opera. Other than that we can kind of forget about the plot.

What really matters in this opera is the music, and the music is amazing. This is none of your italianate operas, the music is pure Beethoven, no compromises are made here to fit the style of Opera popular at the time. It is daring, innovative, powerful and beautiful.

When you start listening to the opera you immediately notice how different it is, the duets and particularly the first quartet are immediately impactful, and from then on it just gets more and more musically interesting. The orchestral use is as good as in any of Beethoven's orchestral works, the instruments reinforce the feelings expressed by the singers, there is no compromise here. The chorus of the prisoners seeing the sunlight is an amazing piece, full of tenderness and power. This is a new kind of opera, and something pretty unique, it makes you think what Beethoven could have done as an opera composer, had he decided to spend more time in it.

Final Grade



From Wikipedia:

Beethoven struggled to produce an appropriate overture for Fidelio, and ultimately went through four versions. His first attempt, for the 1805 premiere, is believed to have been the overture now known as Leonore No. 2. Beethoven then focused this version for the performances of 1806, creating Leonore No. 3. The latter is considered by many listeners as the greatest of the four overtures, but as an intensely dramatic, full-scale symphonic movement it had the defect of overwhelming the (rather light) initial scenes of the opera. Beethoven accordingly experimented with cutting it back somewhat, for a planned 1807 performance in Prague; this is believed to be the version now called Leonore No. 1. Finally, for the 1814 revival Beethoven began anew, and with fresh musical material wrote what we now know as the Fidelio overture. As this somewhat lighter overture seems to work best of the four as a start to the opera, Beethoven's final intentions are generally respected in contemporary productions.

Gustav Mahler introduced the practice, common until the middle of the twentieth century, of performing Leonore No. 3 between the two scenes of the second act, and some conductors eg Leonard Bernstein still perform it there. In this location, it acts as a kind of musical reprise of the rescue scene that has just taken place. A new, modern-styled production that premiered in Budapest in October 2008, for example, features the Leonore 3 overture in this location.

The first quartet of the opera:

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