Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven
Librettist: Joseph Sonnleithner, with adaptations by Stephan von Breuning and Georg Friedrich Treitschke
Source: Jean-Nicolas Bouilly’s libretto for the French opera Léonore, ou L’Amour conjugal (Leonore, or marital love, 1798) by composer Pierre Gaveaux
Premiere: 20 November 1805 at the Theater an der Wien in Vienna (von Breuning’s original version); 23 May 1814 at the Kärntnertortheater in Vienna (the third version)
List of characters
Florestan: a political prisoner, tenor
Leonore: his wife, disguised as a man under the alias Fidelio, soprano
Rocco: prison warden, bass
Marzelline: his daughter, soprano
Jaquino: assistant to Rocco, tenor
Don Pizarro: governor of the prison, baritone
Don Fernando: king’s minister, baritone
Two prisoners: tenor and bass
Soldiers, prisoners, townspeople
‘Jetzt, Schätchen, jetz sind wir allein’ (Jaquino, Marzelline)
‘O wär’ ich schon mit dir vereint’ (Marzelline)
‘Mir ist so wunderbar. (Rocco, Marzelline, Leonore, Jaquino)
‘Hat man nicht aud Gold beineben’ (Rocco)
‘Gut, Sohnchen, gut’ (Rocco, Marzelline, Leonore)
‘Ha! Welch ein Augenblick!’ (Pizarro, Chorus)
‘Jetzt, Alter, hat es Eile!’ (Pizarro, Rocco)
‘Abscheulicher! Wo eilst du hin?’ (Leonore)
‘O welche Lust’ (Chorus, First Prisoner, Second Prisoner, Rocco, Leonore, Marzelline, Jaquino, Pizarro)
‘Nun sprecht, wie ging’s?’ (Leonore, Rocco)
‘Ach, Vater, eilt!’ (Marzelline, Rocco, Jaquino, Leonore)
‘Verwegener Alter’ (Pizarro)
‘Leb wohl, du warmes Sonnenlicht’ (the prisoners)
‘Gott! Welch Dunkel hier!’ (Florestan)
‘Wie kalt es ist’ (Rocco, Leonore)
‘Nur hurtig fort, nur frisch gegraben’ (Rocco, Leonore)
‘Euch werde Lohn in bessern Welten’ (Florestan, Leonore, Rocco)
‘Er sterbe!’ (Pizarro, Florestan, Leonore, Rocco)
‘Es schlagt der Rache Stunde’ (Leonore, Florestan, Pizarro, Rocco)
‘O namenlose Freude!’ (Florestan, Leonore)
‘Heil se idem Tag, Heil sei der Stunde’ (Chorus, Don Fernando, Rocco, Pizarro, Leonore, Florestan, Marzelline, Jaquino)
‘Des besten Konigs Wink und Wille’ (Fernando)
‘Wohlan, so helfet’ (Rocco, Fernando, Pizarro, Leonore, Marzelline, Florestan)
‘O Gott, O Gott’ (Leonore, Florestan, Fernando, Marzelline, Rocco)
‘Wer ein holdes Weib errungen’ (Chorus, Florestan, Leonore, Rocco, Marzelline, Jaquino, Fernando)
Fidelio was Beethoven’s only opera. Inspired by a true story from the French Revolution, it centres on Leonore, a woman whose husband Florestan has been imprisoned by the villainous Don Pizarro. Disguised as a prison guard named ‘Fidelio’, Leonore sets out to rescue her husband from certain death.
‘Fidelio’ gains the trust of the jailor Rocco so that ‘he’ can get access to Florestan. To complicate matters, Rocco’s daughter Marzelline falls for whom she believes to be a young man.
Rocco is slowly starving Florestan to death, on Don Pizarro’s orders. However, government official Don Fernando has been charged with investigating rumours of cruelty in the prison. Don Pizarro decides to speed things up and execute Florestan himself. Will Leonore be in time to save him?
In 18th-century Seville, Spanish nobleman Florestan has been secretly imprisoned by his political rival, the villainous Don Pizarro, in the prison over which Pizarro is governor. Determined to rescue him, Florestan’s wife Leonore has disguised herself as a young man named Fidelio and secured herself a job at the jail.
She works hard to ingratiate herself with Rocco, the prison warden. He is suitably impressed by Fidelio’s diligence, so when Fidelio asks Rocco if he can accompany the warden to the restricted lower cells of the prison, Rocco agrees, once he has Don Pizarro’s consent.
Leonore/Fidelio has heard of a prisoner close to death in these lower cells and is convinced it must be Florestan.
Complicating matters, assistant warden Jacquino is in love with Marzelline, Rocco’s daughter, but she has fallen for Fidelio. Her father approves of a match between Fidelio and Marzelline.
Elsewhere, prison governor Don Pizzaro has learned that Don Fernando, a minister of state, is on his way to the jail to investigate charges of Pizzaro’s cruelty. Pizarro is determined that the minister mustn’t find Florestan imprisoned in the jail; Fernando is an old friend of Florestan’s and Pizarro has spread false rumours that Florestan is dead.
Pizzaro had ordered Rocco to slowly starve Florestan to death, but in light of the minister’s visit, he now decides to murder Florestan. He orders Rocco to dig a grave for the mysterious prisoner in the lower dungeon.
Leonore/Fidelio has overheard all this and bitterly decries Pizzaro. She accompanies Rocco to the condemned man’s cell, ostensibly to help dig the grave. But in reality, she plans to find out if the prisoner is her husband.
In a cell deep under the prison, Florestan is chained to a wall. Close to death, he hallucinates his beloved Leonore as an angel, leading him to heaven, then falls into an exhausted sleep.
Rocco and Fidelio arrive to dig the grave. Florestan awakes and Fidelio recognises him by his voice; Florestan, however, fails to see through his wife’s disguise. The prisoner begs a drink of water from Rocco and Fidelio gives him a piece of bread.
Rocco signals to Don Pizarro that the grave is dug. The prison governor enters and asks if all is ready. Fidelio is ordered to leave, but instead hides. Pizarro reveals his identity as the man who Florestan tried to overcome two years previously. He draws a knife and moves to kill Florestan.
Fidelio leaps from ‘his’ hiding place, brandishing a pistol. Leonore reveals her true identity as Florestan’s wife and claims that Pizarro will have to kill her before he can reach Florestan. At that moment, a trumpet call announces the arrival of Don Fernando, saving Florestan’s life.
The minister is surprised and pleased to find his friend alive. Rocco explains Don Pizarro’s murderous plan and Leonore’s bravery; the prison governer is arrested. Fernando declares all the prisoners are free. The prisoners and townsfolk sing of Leonore’s heroism and faithfulness while the reunited Florestan and Leonore rejoice that love and justice have prevailed.
Leeds-based company Opera North staged a concert performance of Beethoven’s Fidelio in 2021.