Fidelio is an iconic German opera, by the legendary Ludwig van Beethoven, composed in two acts. It is the only opera composed by Beethoven and thus a masterpiece in its own right, as well as one of the most exquisite operas in history. Joseph Sonnleithner wrote the German libretto, itself based upon Jean-Nicolar Bouilly's French libretto used in operas such as Pierre Gaveaux's “Leonore, ou L'amour conjugal”in 1798 and Ferdinando Paer's “Leonora,” that premiered in 1804. It is a breathtaking opera, with a moving story that has captured the hearts of millions since its premiere and continues to do so today as seen by the number of Fidelio tickets sold.
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Fidelio is an opera that follows the story of “Leonore” who disguises herself as a guard, with the same name as the opera and breaks into a prison to rescue “Florestan,” her husband who is held as a political prisoner. This was a story that fit in well with Beethoven's political views and aesthetic, as seen in many of his compositions, which usually involve personal sacrifice, heroic actions and the final triumph of good. Such stories often contained an underlying tone of liberty and justice, echoing the political movements taking place in Europe at the time.
Fidelio, as with many other Beethoven compositions, contains vocal music parts that require highly skilled vocalists and with endurance who can sing with intensity. Singers who perform roles in this opera marvelously are often regarded as the best and are looked up to. Some of the best moments in the opera include the Prisoners' Chorus, a song of freedom that is sung by many of the political prisoners with Florestan seeing Leonore as an angel that has come to rescue him. It is a remarkable finale to what is a mesmerizing opera.
Fidelio was composed in several versions by Beethoven evolving with time. It was first produced as a three act opera and debuted in 1805 at the “Theater an der Wien” in Vienna. Following the advice of friends, Beethoven shorted the opera to two acts with Stephan von Breuning assisting him. He also added a new overture to the opera with the new two act opera being performed in 1806. In 1814 Beethoven revisited the opera and revised it, with the libretto also revised by Georg Friedrich Treitschke. This newer opera was then staged at the Karntnertortheater. This performance was iconic since it was heard by Franz Schubert, then a seventeen year old boy who had sold his school books to watch the performance.
This particular performance of the opera was also at a time when Beethoven's hearing became much reduced with Michael Umlauf assisting him. It features Johann Michael Vogl performing the opera parts, after which he went on to work with Franz Schubert. This version marked the last version of the opera with which Beethoven was satisfied, remarking that he enjoyed the many difficulties faced in writing the opera and producing it. It has since then become a permanent part of the repertory of opera music.
This opera was the first complete opera performance by Arturo Toscanini to be broadcasted over the NBC radio network in 1944 with the NBC Symphony Orchestra and Metropolitan Opera soloists. This performance was also recorded and later released by RCA Victor Records, with Arturo Toscanini commenting that Beethoven believed in liberty and opposed such tyrants of his time as Napoleon Bonaparte. This is after all an opera that has moved the likes of legendary conductor Wilheml Furtwangler to tears. It thus deserves to be seen live via cheap Fidelio tickets.
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