An Opera in Two Acts by Beethoven
' There is nothing he touched which he did not adorn.'
THE WIRELESS CHORUS
Chorus. Master : STANFORD ROBINSON
THE WIRELESS SYMTHONY ORCHESTRA
Conducted by PERCY PITT
Between the scenes of the Second Act the newly-discovered version of Beethoven's Overture,
' Leonora,' No. II, will be played
(The libretto is published by the B.B.C. See page 593.)
BEETHOVEN was not strongly attracted to the operatic form, but the noble theme of the story of the prisoner Florestan and his devoted wife, Leonora, pleased him so well that when he was commissioned to write an Opera he threw himself with the keenest zest into the task, retiring to a country house in the summer of 1805, and returning to Vienna with the fine and moving work we are now to hear.
THE libretto of Fidelio, or Conjugal Love, by a Frenchman, Bouilly, had already been set to music by three Composers—Gabeaux. Mayr, and Paër. None of these three Operas has kept in the repertory, but Beethoven's has, for it is full of rich and beautiful music—some of the most deeply felt of all the Composer wrote.
The Opera, however, was not a success, and only ran for a few nights on its first production. It was produced in November, 1805, when the French had occupied Vienna, the Emperor and his Court having left the city. It had obvious defects as a stage piece, but these were chiefly such as could be put down simply to Beethoven's inexperience in this special branch of composition. Partly, alsp, they are accounted for by the fact that his genius was primarily orchestral. He was rarely sustainedly and consistently effective when writing dramatic music for voices.
With its three Acts reduced to two, and some of the music re-written, Fidclio was again presented some months later. This time it was more successful, but Beethoven quarrelled with his partner in the production of the Opera, and insisted on withdrawing it.
In 1814 both libretto and music were again revised, and this time the Opera became a. stable success.
For its various productions Beethoven wrote no fewer than four Overtures, three of which are known as the First, Second and Third Leonora Overtures respectively, and the other as Fidelio.
(Yet another version of one ot these has been recently brought to light, as noted above.)
Before the Opera begins, we need to know that the Spanish noble. man FLORESTAN
(Tenor), having incurred the hatred of Pizarro (Bans), the Governor of the prison, has been secretly arrested and imprisoned there by his enemy, who has given it out that Florestan is dead.
The imprisoned man's wife, LEONORA (Soprano), believes that he is alive, and in the prison. She disguises herself as a boy, calling herself Fidelio, and contrives to get into the building as assistant to the chief gaoler, Rocco (Bass).
THE Opera opens with a duet between JAQUINO
(7'enor), another of the gaoler's assistants, and MARCELLINA (Soprano), Rocco's daughter. The man urges the rather fickle maid to marry him, but she fancies the new ' lad,' Fidelio.
Rocco comes in, and Fidelio appears. The gaoler looks with favour on the sentiments that Marcellina entertains for Fidelio. There is now a fine quartet, in which Jaquino makes the fourth. Each sings the same tune, one entering after another, in ' canon ' fqrm, as it is called.
Rocco sings a solo about the necessity for young folk to have some money on which to start married life.
Lednora dare not reveal herself as a woman, even to ease Jaquino's mind and remove the obstacle to his winning Marcellina, for her only hope of rescuing her husband lies in maintaining her disguise.
She is able to learn from Rocco that Florestan is in a deep dungeon beneath the castle.
Now a march heralds the appearance of the Governor, Pizarro. He receives a despatch warning him that the Prime Minister, Don Fernando , is about to inspect the prison, for a rumour has reached high quarters that Pizarro has used his position to revenge himself on his enemies.
In a powerful Air, Pizarro declares his intention to make an end of Florestan, who now has become a very dangerous captive to have in the prison.
A trumpeter is placed aloft on the tower, and is instructed to blow a. fanfare when he sees the Prime Minister's cavalcade approaching.
Pizarro tries to bribe Rocco to kill Florestan, but on the gaoler's shrinking from the deed, the. Governor says that he himself will do it, and Rocco is sent to dig a grave in an old disused cistern in the dungeons.
Leonora has overheard the plot, and takes courage to try and save her husband. She sings a touching Air, 'Come,, hope, let not the last star of the weary fade out.'
The Act ends with a chorus of prisoners, who are allowed out for a little while, to enjoy the sunshine. They are speedily sent back to their gloomy cells by the callous Pizarro.
T HE scene is Florestan's dungeon. The prisoner sings a touching song of mingled distress and faith, and then Rocco, with Fidelio to help him, comes to dig the grave.
The wife recognises with emotion her husband's voice, and though she dare not reveal herself, she gives him some bread and wine.
Pizarro enters, determined to make an end of his enemy. He is about to do so when Fidelio interposes, points a pistol at the Governor, and tells him she is Florestan's wife.
At this instant the trumpet-call rings out from the battlements. - The Prime Minister is at hand! Pizzarro hastens away to meet him, and husband and wife join in a glad duet, ' 0 inexpressible joy.'
In the last Scene, Florestan is brought out of his dungeon, and DON FERNANDO (Bass) recog
. nises in him a friend, whom he thought was dead.
Pizarro's punishment is sternly decreed by the Prime Minister, and Leonora removes her husband's chains, amid the rejoicings of the people, who sing the praises of Leonora's wifely courage and devotion.
AS announced in the programme, we .are to hear tonight the newly-discovered version of the Second Leonora Overture.
The form which we know as the Second Overture is really that which was played at the first performance of the Opera. For many years, apparently, a firm of publishers has possessed another copy of this piece, which, we gather, is the one that Beethoven intended as the final form of the Overture.
It is somewhat shorter than the usual version of the Second Leonora, and contains also some alterations, which those interested in this side of the subject can study when the score (which at the moment of writing is in the press) is published.