Some final thoughts on Fidelio from Hal France…
Opening night is at hand! Here are a few thoughts from Michael Rose’s excellent book “The Birth of An Opera.” This book details the creative process of fifteen great operas.
These excerpts speak to Beethoven’s choice of subject, historical events that affected the 1805 premiere and the evolution of the piece. Enjoy and enjoy the upcoming performances of this fascinating opera.
“What he needed, in fact demanded, was a subject he could approach ‘with love and tenderness” that he could relate to the lofty if sometimes imprecise ideals of the dawning romantic movement.”
The 1805 Premiere
“By now the Empress, the Austrian nobility, the wealthy patricians, the great bankers and merchants, virtually the entire public on which the opera house relied for support, had fled the capital. A week before the premiere, the defenseless city capitulated to Napoleon, and on the next day the Emperor of the French hoisted the tricolor surmounted by a golden eagle on the Palace. And so it came about that the audience at the first performance was thin and heavily sprinkled with French officers in uniform, “more familiar with the thunder of cannon than with sublime musical conceptions.”
Evolution of the piece
“It was as much as anything the character of the composition that was to be changed. The original Fidelio, written by a young man building on the conventions of an essentially French tradition, is about personal relationships and personal courage, and the drama that arises from them. The 1806 version had disturbed the calculated structure of the original but not changed the basic message. But by 1814 the composer’s view had expanded beyond the purely personal to encompass a wider vision of humanity. Beethoven was an idealist, and during the years that separated the first Fidelio from its final version, the hopes of freedom that had swept across Europe in the wake of the French Revolution had been all but lost in the flood of French imperialism.”