Fidelio Urfassung (Leonore), L. van Beethoven
Ludwig van Beethoven mesmerised audiences with the beauty, emotion and complexity of his piano sonatas and numerous instrumental and ensemble works, and he poured almost all his creative energies in such musical creations. Still, he found the time and inspiration to compose one opera as well. Leonore, oder Der Triumph der ehelichen Liebe (Leonore, or The Triumph of Marital Love) was premiered at Theater an der Wien in Vienna on 20 November 1805. Beethoven would rework the original twice during his lifetime and eventually create the ultimate edition of his only opera, which we know as Fidelio today, in 1814. The Vienna State Opera dusts off the original version, Leonore, and offers a unique look at the development of a masterpiece.
Leonore took a while to materialise, even before Beethoven set out to modify its score. Working on commission and with a libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder, the composer was to create an opera called Vesta’s Fire in 1803. Dissatisfied with the quality of the text, however, Beethoven tapped librettist Joseph Sonnleithner to adapt Jean-Nicolas Bouilly’s French original into German. Thanks to the much more agreeable lyrical input, the maestro found enough inspiration to produce the first incarnation of Leonore. To avoid confusion with several other contemporary operas which bore the same female name, the three-act stage work was soon re-billed as Fidelio, and two further versions emerged from under Beethoven’s pen. Wiener Staatsoper now lifts the curtain on the original Fidelio, revealing the hidden Leonore, much like in the plot itself.
The story of all the versions of Fidelio revolves around a brave and dedicated wife, Leonore, who cross-dresses as a male prison guard in order to set her husband Florestan free from prison where he is serving time for his political actions against the corrupt governor Pizarro. The topic of rising up against tyranny and exacting justice was near and dear to Beethoven’s heart and inspired him to create a captivating opera that is bound to charm you, too!