Interpretation of Beethoven only one opera Fidelio or Leonore and four different overtures.
By the early nineteenth century Ludwig Van Beethoven (1170-1827) had been widely regarded as a prolific composer of instrumental music. Recognizing that he was going deaf, Beethoven fell in and out of periods of great depression. It was also a time in which Viennese “fairy opera” and sentimental singspiel had become the popular music genre.
In 1803 Beethoven was commissioned by a director, Emanuel Schikaneder (1751-1812) to compose an opera for his theatre, Theatre an der Wien. Emanuel Schikaneder was mostly famous for his collaboration as a librettist with Mozart on popular operas such as Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute). After abanding his first project Vestas Feuer (Vesta’s Fire). Beethoven began composing Leonore, later entitled Fidelio in order to distinguish it from earlier pieces of the same name by other composers like Pierre Gaveaux (1761-1825) in 1789, Ferdinando Paër (1771-1839) in 1804, and Simon Mayr (1763-1845) in 1805.
Finding himself living in the same city where Mozart died in poverty some 15 years earlier, Beethoven was intrigued by the strength of the human spirit and the idea of good triumphing over evil. Beethoven had always been drawn to the ideals of the opera genre known as “rescue opera.” A “rescue opera” is an opera in which the hero, after suffering many dangerous obstacles, including death, ultimately prevails. A great admirer of opera composer, Luigi Cherubini, Beethoven wanted to compose in a similar style. For example, Cherubini’s Les deux journées (Lyric Comedy in three acts 1800, a libretto by Jean-Nicola Bouilly) is a “humanity” opera with a subject that appealed to him, whereby he unreservedly admired Cherubini’s cool, precise, and fastidious music. Beethoven chose to compose an opera based on an adaptation of Jean-Nicolas Bouilly’s (1763-1842), French Libretto, leonore, ou L’amour conjugal (On Conjugal Love), classic rescue story.
Written with librettist Joseph von Sonnleithner, Beethoven’s first version was divided into three acts in the style of a German Singspiel: spoken dialogue alternation with songs, and sometimes ensembles, choruses, or more extended musical pieces. Fidelio was first performed on November 20, 1805 after being delayed due to censoring issues. The opera opened to a small audience and negative reviews. This was not entirely Beethoven’s fault. At the time of the opening, Vienna was occupied by French troops. Because of this, many of Beethoven’s friends and usual patrons had fled the city. Therefore, his audience consisted of French nobility who found the opera to be less than spectacular. The few friends in attendance that evening were less than pleased with the opera as well, claiming the performance was too long. To Beethoven’s disappointment, the show was closed after only three performances.
A year later, Beethoven attempted a revision of Fidelio for the same theatre. Due to a change in management, Beethoven was presented with a new librettist by the name of Stephan Von Breuning. After a great deal of struggle, a very reluctant Beethoven agreed to a much more condensed and concise version of the opera. The newly revised version was performed on May 29, 1806. Again the audience was not Beethoven’s ideal audience and the show failed once again. Beethoven, a bit bitter, blamed the theatre management and quickly withdrew his opera proclaiming, “I do not write for the galleries.” It would be many years before Beethoven would try another hand at revising Fidelio. After the 1806 production, Beethoven quickly produced a great number of highly acclaimed works including the Symphony No.3, Op.55 “Eroica” and his Fifth Symphony, Op.67. However, he could not escape “his baby,” Fidelio.
Years after its second attempt and failure, three singers wished to revive Beethoven’s Fidelio for Vienna’s Karntnertortheater forcing Beethoven to evaluate his opera one last time. After reading a refined libretto by Georg Friedrich Treitschke, Beethoven agreed to the revival but insisted on a complete revision in which he virtually started over. Nearly every number was altered in some fashion. The third and final version of the opera opened with great success on May 23, 1814.
There has also been a great deal of discussion regarding Beethoven’s influences while writing Fidelio. There is no doubt he was influenced by Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute), utilizing similar concepts of dark versus light, good versus evil. It is also interesting to note that it was Die Zauberflöte ’s librettist, Emmanuel Schikaneder who commissioned Beethoven’s original version of Fidelio. Though it is not known whether Beethoven had seen earlier settings of the story, there are clear similarities. Douglas Johnson writes of the similarities in key structure and musical gesture as they relate to the different characters. Those Characteristics are found in both Gaveaux’s and Paer’s versions. Like many composers, he pulled from own body of work as well, borrowing from his abandoned opera Vesta Feuer among other works.
 Douglas Johnson, “Fidelio,” in The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, 2 vols., ed. Stanley Sadie (London: Macmillan Press, 1992):183.
 Carl Dahlhaus, Ludwig van Beethoven: Approaches to his Mu sic, trans. Mary Whittall (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991): 181.
 Johnson, op. cit.: 183
 James Parsons, “Fidelio,” in International Dictionary of Opera, 1 vol., ed. C. Steven Larue (London:St. James Press, 1993):436.
 Michael C. Tusa, “Beethoven’s essay in opera,” in The Cambridge Companion to Beethoven, ed. Glenn Stanly (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000):200.
 Douglas Johnson, “Fidelio,” in The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, 2 vols., ed. Stanley Sadie (London: Macmillan Press, 1992): 183.
 Tusa, op. cit.: 200.
 James Parsons, “Fidelio,” in International Dictionary of Opera, 1 vol., ed. C. Steven Larue (London: St. James Press, 1993):437.
 Bary Cooper, Beethoven (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000): 140.
 Thomas K. Scherman and Louis Biancolli, The Beethoven Companion (Doubleday& Company, Inc., 1972):655.
 Michael C. Tusa, “Beethoven’s essay in opera,” in The Cambridge Companion to Beethoven, ed. Glenn Stanley (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000): 208.
 Ibid.: 208.
 Douglas Johnson, “Fidelio,” in The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, 2 vols., ed. Stanley Sadie (London: Macmillan Press, 1992) :186.
 Ibid.: 186.
- Quote paper
- Full time Lecturer in Voice Myunghwa Jang (Author), 2010, Interpretation of Beethoven's Fidelio or Leonore and four different overtures, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/159536