Guest Blogger, Hal France, on Getting to Know Fidelio

Apr 1, 2015

It is with pleasure I join in this spring and share a few thoughts on the coming production directed by Michael Shell, conducted by Nicholas Cleobury and designed by Jun Kaneko.

Beethoven’s Fidelio stands large in the repertoire as the sole operatic work of this extraordinary composer. It is a model for the use of orchestra in a serious drama and a powerful reflection of its revolutionary times. Philosopher Arthur Danto in the book Fidelio/Leonore/Jun Kaneko characterizes this as “a time when the Rights of Man became recognized as a political reality and the storming of the bastille an iconic event.” Beethoven was determined to be a voice for a changing and hopeful world. In Fidelio he accomplished a large part of his mission.

The ultimate completion of the opera as we know it was a long and arduous one. Spanning nearly ten years from its first version premiered in 1805 to the definitive third version in 1814, Fidelio is a study of the composer’s legendary perseverance.

Irving Kolodin in his book: “The Interior Beethoven” writes, “it was inherent in the condition of being born Beethoven that a problem existed in order to be solved.” Even by Beethoven’s rigorous standards, this opera presented extraordinary challenges. According to his personal assistant Anton Schindler, “ This child of his intellect had caused him more than any other (of his works) the greatest birth pangs as well as the greatest vexation, and that therefore it was the one dearest to him.”

After it’s second failure in 1806, the work sat nearly eight years until a third performance opportunity and a new partner in Viennese court librettist, Georg Friedrich Treitschke came along in 1814. Treitschke is credited with re-structuring the opera and helping the composer achieve his message. He also helped pave the way for a fresh look by the public when he wrote in June of 1814 “The libretto and music are not to be confused with the opera of the same name which was performed several years ago at the Theater an der Wien…. The whole piece has been remodeled in accordance with altered notions of theatrical effectiveness, and more than half of it has been newly composed.”

Opera Philadelphia’s 2009 production of Jun Kaneko’s Fidelio. Photo by Takashi Hatakeyama.

Historical accounts and quotes such as these present us an opportunity to learn more and enrich our experience. I will share a few more in subsequent blogs. I have found the book “Fidelio/Leonore/Jun Kaneko published by the Jun Kaneko Studio to be rich in interesting articles and images.

-Hal France

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