27 Nov 2005

BEETHOVEN: Fidelio — Munich 1978

Fidelio, an opera in two acts

Music by Ludwig van Beethoven. Libretto by Josef Sonnleithner, based on a French libretto by Jean Nicolas Bouilly

First performance: 23 May 1814 at the k.k. Hoftheater nächst dem Kärnthnerthor, Vienna

Principal Characters:
Florestan, a Spanish nobleman Tenor
Leonora, his wife, in male attire known as "Fidelio" Soprano
Don Fernando, the Prime Minister Bass
Don Pizarro, Governor of the prison Bass-Baritone
Rocco, chief jailer Bass
Marzellina, his daughter Soprano
Jaquino, his assistant Tenor

Time and Place:

Seville, 18th Century


Act I

Don Pizarro, the despotic governor of a state prison near Seville, is in the habit of holding his political enemies prisoner at his mercy. One of these enemies is Don Florestan, who has publicly accused the governor of abusing the power of his position. Leonore, Florestan's wife, suspects that her husband is being held prisoner by Pizarro and so, disguised as a man and calling herself Fidelio, she gets a job as assistant to Rocco, the chief jailer.

Marzelline, Rocco's daughter, has fallen in love with Fidelio and rejects the suit of Jaquino, the jailer who has been courting her for years. Rocco also now seems to prefer the idea of Fidelio, who is much cleverer than the simple Jaquino, as a son-in-law and gives his approval of his daughter's decision.

Pizarro receives an anonymous letter warning him that the King's minister, Don Fernando, plans to come and inspect the prison. It has come to his ears that political prisoners are being unlawfully held there. Pizarro immediately posts a trumpeter to keep watch and warn him of the minister's approach so that he has time to do away with Florestan before the minister arrives at the prison. Pizarro instructs Rocco to kill Florestan, but the latter refuses and the governor determines to do the job himself, ordering Rocco to dig a grave in Florestan's cell.

Leonore, who has overheard this conversation between Pizarro and Rocco, is determined to rescue Florestan; she plans to search for him among the prisoners and set him free. She pleads with Rocco to allow the prisoners to take exercise in the prison yard but is unable to discover her husband among them. She then persuades Rocco to take her with him into the dungeons, where the suspects Florestan is being held. Pizzaro appears and angrily orders the prisoners to be hustled back to their cells but refrains from punishing Rocco for acting without orders because of the latter's involvement in the plot to murder Florestan.

Act II

Florestan is bewailing his fate in a dungeon and on the verge of hallucination, so to speak, as he sees the image of Leonore in his mind's eye.

Rocco, followed by Leonore, comes in to dig the grave. Horrified, she recognises her husband. When Rocco gives the agreed signal, Pizarro arrives to kill Florestan. Leonore reveals herself as Florestan's wife and is able to prevent the murder by courageously stepping between her husband and Pizarro as he draws his dagger, just as the trumpeter gives the signal announcing the arrival of the minister.

Don Fernando, who has believed his friend Florestan dead, sets him and all the other prisoners free and Pizarro, the tyrant, is arrested to await his just punishment.

Courtesy of the Bayerische Staatsoper. Translation: Susan Bollinger

Click here for the complete libretto.