For his only opera, Beethoven won ‘martyr’s crown’
January 16, 2005
BY WYNNE DELACOMA Classical Music Critic
Among history’s crowded pantheon of tormented genius-artists, Beethoven holds an honored spot.
Often he composed quickly and with little apparent struggle. But he was no Mozart, who typically composed with a facility and speed that some music scholars have described as “taking dictation from God.” Beethoven filled sketchbooks with musical fragments, doggedly reworking and refining them like a miner scratching for diamonds in a black-walled shaft. With his wild hair, scowling gaze, deafness — a particularly cruel infirmity for a musician — and volcanic temper, he is the very model of a modern angst-ridden artist.
Few of his compositions gave him more angst than “Fidelio,” which Lyric Opera of Chicago presents starting Tuesday in an updated production with Karita Mattila, Kim Begley, Rene Pape and conductor Christoph von Dohnanyi. Put through three major revisions between 1804 and 1814 and performed with four different overtures, it is Beethoven’s only opera and explores the lofty ideals of love and freedom that obsessed the composer throughout his life.
The opera’s full title is “Fidelio, or Married Love,” and it tells the tale of the courageous Leonore, who disguises herself as a man, Fidelio, and risks her own life to free her unjustly imprisoned husband from his underground dungeon. With stirring music including a powerful prisoners’ chorus and an ecstatic love duet, it contains hints of two masterworks, the Missa solemnis and the Ninth Symphony, that would follow in the next decade.
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