FIDELIO, BEETHOVEN'S ONLY OPERA
Premiering as a three act opera in 1805, This opera went through several re-writes before its composer, Ludwig van Beethoven, settled on the final, version in 1814, reduced to a performance in two acts.
A German language opera which featured spoken dialogue as well as song, the opera premiered in Vienna, while the city was under French military occupation, at the Theater an der Wien. With French military officers the main audience, Beethoven struggled to find success with his story of politics, sacrifice and struggle until the third incarnation of the opera was performed at the Kärntnertortheater on 23 May 1814, with a young Franz Schubert in the audience.
Set in and around a state prison near Seville, Spain, in the late 18th Century, the story follows the plight of Florestan, a prisoner nearly starved to death, until his wife Leonore launches an audacious plan to free him, turning up at the prison dressed as a young man seeking work, where she is hired by the prison's chief guard, Rocco.
The action begins in the prison, two years after Florestan's incarceration. Leonore is working as Rocco's assistant, disguised as a boy named Fidelio. We learn that Rocco's daughter, Marzelline, is in love with Leonore in disguise and wishes to marry him.
Rocco's assistant Jaquino is in love with Marzelline too. We also learn that Florestan is being hidden in a dungeon in the basement, where his enemy, the tyrant Pizarro, plans to kill him later that day. Rocco and Leonora set the prisoners free in the yard, where they are so overjoyed by their new found liberty that they burst into song. Pizarro arrives and the prisoners are ushered back to their cells.
Rocco and Leonora in disguise again arrive at Florestan's cell to dig his grave before Pizarro is due to arrive to kill him. Here they sing a duet. Leonora recognises her starved and beaten husband, who begs Rocco for a drop of water, which he is given, but he does not recognise he. Pizarro arrives to kill Florestan and Leonora hides, leaping between Pizarro and Florestan when he brandishes a dagger, threatening to shoot him. Jaquino arrives to tell Pizarro a minister has arrived to see him, Rocco reveals Pizarro's murder plot, and he is taken away to prison. Leonora and Florestan sing a love duet, before she releases him from his chains, and is praised in song by the townsfolk, in front of a shocked Marzelline.
THE MAIN ROLES
Florestan, a prisoner, tenor
Leonore, his wife, soprano
Rocco, a guard, bass
Marzelline, his daughter, soprano
Jaquino, assistant to Rocco, tenor
Pizarro, governor of the prison, bass-baritone
Fernando, the King's minister, bass
Two prisoners, tenor and bass
Soldiers, prisoners and townspeople, assorted chorus.