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Fidelio: Beethoven's Only Opera

Beethoven is a household name. Known for his incredible symphonies and concertos, he is regarded as one of the greatest composers of all time. His music has inspired people and remained an incredible influence on many great composers for centuries. One of his many great works is his only opera, Fidelio. 

The German libretto was originally prepared by Joseph Sonnleithner, and the work premiered at Vienna's Theater an der Wien on the 20th of November, 1805. In 1806, Stephen von Breuning helped the work be shortened from a three-act opera to a two-act opera. The libretto was further edited and the opera premiered at the Theater am Kärntnertor on May 23, 1814. The two early versions are known as Leonore, which will be explained later, with the official version being now known as Fidelio.

Fidelio went through a long, complicated process, as it was revised 3 times, and much of the music was actually written for an earlier, never made opera. The original 1805 Leonore mixed French opera comique (opera that contains arias and spoken dialogue), German singspiel (German light opera with dialogue), and traditional folk song style. 

Unfortunately, in 1805, the aristocracy who provided Beethoven with his livelihood and supported him was not who received his work. It was the French, who found it more so... lacking. It was shelved. When the 1815 version premiered, it was very different. Beethoven's hearing loss was progressing, and he was not the same as he had been. Beethoven stated, "almost no musical piece remained the same and more than half of the opera had been completely re-worked." Despite that, and the indications that Beethoven himself was not that strong of a fan of the final version, it was a huge success. It is still heavily performed to this day. 

Now for the plot: Florestan works to expose the crimes of a rival nobleman called Pizarro. Pizarro, for revenge, imprisons Florestan in the prison he governs over. He then spreads rumors of Florestan's death. Leonore, Florestan's wife, suspects that her husband is still alive. She disguises herself as a man named Fidelio, gaining employment under the prison warden, Rocco. 

Two years later, at the time the first act occurs, Marzelline, the daughter of Rocco, is in love with Fidelio. Rocco praises Fidelio and believes Fidelio also loves Marzelline. Rocco informs Fidelio that when Don Pizarro leaves for Seville, Fidelio and Marzelline can be married. Fidelio asks Rocco why Rocco will not allow him to help in the dungeons, and Rocco admits that there is a dungeon that houses a male prisoner which he can never take Fidelio. Fidelio claims that he has enough courage to be able to cope with seeing the prisoner.

Later, Don Pizarro is warned by Rocco that the minister plans to visit and investigate the rumors of his cruelty. Pizarro cannot have this happen and says he will have Florestan murdered. When Rocco refuses to kill Florestan, Pizarro decides he will be the one to kill Florestan. Fidelio overhears this plot and decides to rescue Florestan. Rocco allows Fidelio to join on his rounds in the dungeons. They prepare to enter Florestan's cell, knowing that he is to be killed. Fidelio is distraught but determined. Before they can enter, they are informed that Pizarro is aware and angry about the fact that Rocco had earlier allowed the prisoners temporary freedom.

Inside his cell, Florestan has a vision of Leonore, his wife, coming to rescue him. He collapses and falls asleep while Rocco and Fidelio prepare to dig his grave. Fidelio recognizes Florestan. Florestan awakes and asks for a message to be sent to his wife after having discovered that the prison he is in is Pizarro's prison. He is refused. 

Pizarro arrives and asks if all is ready. Rocco says it is and tries to get Fidelio to leave. He instead hides in the cell. Pizarro reveals himself to Florestan and brandishes a dagger. Fidelio jumps in front of Florestan and reveals herself to truly be Leonore, pulling out a gun and threatening to shoot Pizarro. The minister of the king arrives and denounces Pizarro. Florestan is released from chains by Leonore.

There are many operas that have strong moments for women. Tosca stabbing Scarpia to death, or Carmen fending off her murderer ex. Leonore revealing herself to be a woman, pulling out a gun, and saving her husband is one of the strongest of all. While many operas try to portray strong women, they never hit exactly right. There always feels to be a bit of misogyny still in the writing, which isn't shocking considering the time that they were written.

While Leonore is disguised and believed to be a man for the show, it still shows how strong women can be. That they can do the things that men can do. No one doubted she was a man, because she was just as strong and capable as a man. It's a story of strength, love, and freedom. There is a good reason that this opera has cemented a place in history.

If you're interested, here are some links to some beautiful songs from the show.

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Ludwig Van

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I wish Beethoven was still alive so I could tell him that his opera served cunt

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How does it feel being the most funny, most based person alive

by Fincce; ; Report

Very good

by Ludwig Van; ; Report