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 n‰chst dem K‰rnthnerthor, Vienna
|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
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.
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.
image_description=Ludwig van Beethoven
first_audio_name=Ludwig van Beethoven: Fidelio
product_title=Ludwig van Beethoven: Fidelio
product_by=Nikolaus Hillebrand (Don Fernando), Donald McIntyre (Don Pizarro), James King (Florestan), Hildegard Behrens (Leonore/Fidelio), Kurt Moll (Rocco), Lucia Popp (Marzellina), Norbert Orth (Jaquino). Chor der Bayerischen Staatsoper, Bayerisches Staatsorchester, Karl Bˆhm (cond.). Live performance 30 January 1978.
Recording and license to stream provided by Bayerische Staatsoper.