BEETHOVEN’S FIDELIO

Friday, March 31, 2017                             8:00 PM       Jones Hall
Sunday, April 2, 2017                                2:00 PM       Jones Hall

Program 

Beethoven:

 

Fidelio, Opus 72     

Overture:  Allegro—Adagio—Allegro

 

Act One

2. Aria (Marzelline), O wär’ ich schon mit dir vereint:  Andante con moto

1. Duet (Jaquino, Marzelline), Jetzt, Schätzchen, jetzt sind wir allein:  Allegro

3. Quartet (Marzelline, Leonore, Rocco, Jaquino), Mir ist so wunderbar:  Andante sostenuto

4. Aria (Rocco), Hat man nicht auch Gold beineben:  Allegro moderato

5. Trio (Rocco, Leonore, Marzelline), Gut, Sönchen, gut, hab’ immer Muth:  Allegro, ma non troppo

6. Marsch:  Vivace

7. Aria with Chorus (Pizarro), Ha! Welch ein Augenblick!:  Allegro agitato

8. Duet (Pizarro, Rocco), Jetzt, Alter, hat es Eile!:  Allegro con brio

9. Recitative and Aria (Leonore):  Abscheulicher! Wo eilst du hin?:  Allegro agitato—Adagio

10. Finale (Chorus, Leonore, Rocco, Marzelline, Jaquino, Pizarro), O welche lust, in freier Luft:  Allegro, ma non troppo

 

INTERMISSION

  





 

 

Act Two

11. Introduction and Aria (Florestan), Gott! Welch Dunkel hier!:  Grave

12. Melodrama and Duet (Rocco, Leonore), Nur hurtig fort, nur frisch gegraben:  Andante con moto

13. Trio (Florestan, Rocco, Leonore), Euch werde Lohn in bessern Welten:  Moderato

14. Quartet (Pizarro, Florestan, Leonore, Rocco), Er sterbe! Doch er soll erst wissen:  Allegro

15. Duet (Leonore, Florestan), O namenlose Freude!:  Allegro vivace

16. Finale (Chorus, Don Fernando, Rocco, Pizarro, Leonore, Marzelline, Florestan, Jaquino), Heil sei dem Tag, Heil sei der Stunde:  Allegro vivace

First half timing:                     1:15

Performance timing:               2:25

 

Program Notes

 

Fidelio, Opus 72

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

In the Vienna of Beethoven’s time, opera was one of the keys to artistic prestige. Naturally, potential subjects tantalized him. Beethoven looked at prospects ranging from Shakespeare’s Macbeth to a story called The Arrival of the Pennsylvanians in America. But he only completed one opera: Fidelio, the story of a woman who disguises herself as a man so she can infiltrate a penitentiary and free her husband, a political prisoner. Its themes of marital devotion and human brotherhood harmonized with Beethoven’s longtime personal ideals.

Fidelio’s title is the pseudonym of the disguised Leonore, who has gotten into the prison by taking a job there. The opera blends the heroic main story with a lighter subplot involving a kind-hearted guard, Rocco, and his daughter Marzelline, who has a crush on Fidelio.

The Story

Act 1, Scene 1 takes place in Rocco’s quarters. Marzelline’s sweetheart, Jaquino, begs her to say she’ll marry him. But she resists, telling him she loves her father’s assistant, Fidelio, whose true identity no one suspects. Rocco approves of his daughter’s interest in Fidelio. The opera’s main story comes into view when Rocco tells Fidelio (really Leonore) that a secret dungeon contains a man who languishes near starvation.

Act 1, Scene 2 unfolds in the prison yard. The warden, Pizarro, learns that a government minister is coming to investigate reports that men are being held in the prison unjustly. He decides the secret prisoner—Florestan, his foe—must die immediately, and he orders Rocco to prepare a grave. Leonore overhears that, and even though she doesn’t know the prisoner’s identity, she resolves to save him. As Fidelio, she persuades Rocco to let all the prisoners come into the prison yard for fresh air. But her husband doesn’t appear.

Act 2, Scene 1 takes us to the dungeon. Florestan resolves to confront his fate with fortitude, and he has a vision of Leonore as an angel leading him to paradise. When Rocco and Fidelio enter the dungeon, Leonore finally recognizes her husband. She doesn’t identify herself, but she gives him a crust of bread. Pizarro arrives, and when he brandishes a dagger to kill Florestan, Leonore jumps between them and reveals who she is.

Just then, a trumpet announces the government minister’s arrival. With Pizarro thwarted, Leonore and Florestan celebrate their reunion. 

Act 2, Scene 2 returns us to the prison yard. Don Fernando, the minister, extols liberty and brotherhood. He’s shocked to find Florestan in shackles, and the townspeople denounce Pizarro. Fernando allows Leonore to free Florestan from his chains, and everyone hails Leonore’s bravery.

The Music

The overture hints at the opera’s ultimate power. A brisk, snappy opening captures the attention, then the woodwinds bring gentleness. Singing out in pairs, they foreshadow a role they’ll play throughout the opera: mirroring the characters’ emotions. A French horn sets a more vigorous pace, and the orchestra delivers a first surge of the exuberance that will return in Fidelio’s happy ending.

Act 1 begins with Marzelline and Jacquino’s duet. The orchestra launches it with a quick four-note phrase, as buoyant as a laugh, that bubbles up repeatedly as Marzelline teases her sweetheart. The orchestral part suddenly grows fuller and more emphatic, as if it’s heralding something important. Sure enough, Marzelline makes the first mention of Fidelio. When she envisions being married to Fidelio, her aria begins pensively, and the winds echo her melody. The winds’ crescendo captures the surge of excitement within her, and as she imagines marital bliss, the music accelerates, and her voice soars.

After Fidelio (really Leonore) and Rocco appear, a spacious quartet reveals the characters’ emotions, especially the hope and fear within Leonore. The strings, divided into extra parts for added richness, begin with a hymn-like depth. The voices enter one at a time, and the music builds to a glowing climax. Joviality then returns as Rocco points out that a young couple needs money to be happy. The music slips into a minor key as he imagines an empty pocket, then turns spirited and hearty when he salutes gold.

Fidelio’s real electricity emerges in the second scene, when Pizarro’s eagerness for revenge on Florestan bursts out. A drum roll and rapid orchestral crescendo launch his aria. His voice booms, and churning strings conjure up the violence inside him. When Pizarro reveals his plans to Rocco, the orchestra reins in, but its stabs of emphasis reveal the violence inside him. When he describes the dagger’s thrust, the winds drive home his point with a dissonant, fortissimo chord. The more excited he gets, the more the orchestra adds its own fire. 

Leonore’s response is just as visceral. The orchestra’s strings lash out; then does Leonore’s voice. But nobility and tenderness take over as her thoughts turn to her goal. The orchestra’s French horns, Beethoven’s sonic emblem of heroism, well up alongside her, amplifying her lyricism, and they join her in a surge of vitality as she invokes the inner compulsion that powers her. 

When Rocco allows the prisoners to emerge into the fresh air, Fidelio reaches one of its peaks of eloquence. The strings begin ethereally, and the voices enter gradually, from the basses up through the tenors—a sonic equivalent of the prisoners’ steps into the light. The music swells as the men imagine freedom and salvation. In the orchestra, the woodwinds’ lines float heavenward, mirroring the prisoners’ thoughts. But the orchestra’s darker tones take over as Pizarro orders Rocco to start preparing the prisoner’s grave. The scene ends with foreboding as the prisoners return to their cells.

Act 2 begins with an orchestral prelude that conjures up the dungeon’s gloom. At first, Beethoven plays hushed strings against biting, stark winds. The strings soon assert themselves, intoning somber phrases that would suit a funeral march. As the tension builds, Florestan cries out, bewailing the darkness that envelops him. Now the woodwinds step in, bringing warmth and lyricism. Florestan looks inward, singing fervently about facing his fate with courage. The orchestra picks up speed, and an oboe solo takes wing. Florestan envisions Leonore as an angel leading him to paradise, and as his voice strives higher —“in a quiet ecstasy bordering on madness,” as Beethoven instructed—the oboe soars, too. 

The orchestra’s shadowy colors return as Rocco and Fidelio enter. Their scene begins in a form that 19th-century musicians called melodrama: spoken dialogue over orchestral accompaniment. When the pair realize that Florestan is still alive, the oboe echoes a phrase from the vision of Leonore. As the pair begins work on the grave, the double basses’ ominous tones drive the music’s depiction of their grim labor. When they give Florestan a sip of wine, he thanks them with the heartfelt opening melody of a trio that grows even more stirring when Leonore offers him a piece of bread, with the winds again adding their voices to hers.

The strings enter with a slash, heralding Pizarro’s arrival in the dungeon. Backed up by the rumbling orchestra, his voice swells into a roar as he savors his approaching revenge. But Florestan—backed up by ringing trumpets—defies him, and Leonore unleashes vocal lightning bolts. When she at last reveals her real identity, the music quiets, only to explode again as Pizarro renews his threat. The confrontation suddenly breaks off. The orchestra jumps to a new key, and a trumpet signals the government minister’s arrival. The woodwinds’ lyricism welcomes the good news, and after a second trumpet call, the music erupts with jubilation from Leonore, Florestan and Rocco—and curses from Pizarro. The orchestra’s final cadence looks forward to the clipped but forceful close of the Scherzo of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Over a palpitating accompaniment driven by the strings, husband and wife celebrate their reunion. Their short duet, with the pair alternating in bursts of exultation, combines almost breathless excitement with tenderness and harmony.

The finale opens with a light, snappy march that turns into a groundswell of triumphant tone. This is Beethoven’s orchestral muscle-flexing at its most visceral. The opening chorus continues in the martial vein. Then, Don Fernando’s tribute unfolds in broad, stately phrases, with the woodwinds’ fullness enhancing the air of nobility. After the strings let loose a burst of aggression to underline the townspeople’s curses of Pizarro, Florestan’s liberation takes the spotlight. As Leonore unlocks his shackles, the first oboe takes off on a flight of spacious, fervent melody. The rest of the winds join in, and the voices onstage swell in a hymn of thanks for God’s justice. Another orchestral fortissimo then launches the climactic tribute to Leonore. It begins with a lusty, march-like chorus, and jaunty strings turn the mood almost giddy as Florestan adds his voice to the praises. The orchestra ratchets up to an even more vigorous tempo, and Fidelio ends with a shining, sonorous hymn to marital devotion.

The Instruments: 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, offstage trumpet, 2 trombones, timpani and strings — Steven Brown

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