Beethoven’s only opera is based on the libretto of Joseph Sonnleithner. Initially, during the composer’s lifetime, the work wasn’t particularly well-received. However, that was long ago and times have changed. The version staged at the Estates Theatre (where, incidentally it was premiered in Bohemia) and directed by Vera Nemirova, testifies to the opera’s popularity today.
The plot is relatively simple. It centres on the character of Fidelio, whom Marzelline, with the blessing of her jailer father Rocco, wishes to marry. However, Fidelio is actually Leonore elaborately disguised as a man, and she begs Rocco to allow her to deliver food to the prisoners. Ruling the prison is the cruel governor, don Pizzaro, who had unjustly thrown Leonore’s husband Florestan into the jail two years before. Don Pizzaro wants, with the reluctant assistance of Rocco, to have Florestan murdered. Government minister Fernando is coming to inspect the prison, and Florestan’s incarceration is kept from him.
The simple narrative is secondary to the music and staging, brought to life by masterful baritone Sebastian Holecek as Don Pizzaro and soprano Melanie Diener as Fidelio/Leonora. The fact that an experimental, overstated approach can be applied to the production is reflected in the modern costumes, which look ordinary, and in the stage design by Ulrik Kunz, which verges on the industrial. Several surprising and humorous additions are also evidence of such an approach. The production is conducted by Andreas Sebastian Weiser, Music Director of the Prague State Opera. Even at the most difficult points in the story you’ll feel uplifted rather than sad. For the overall tone of the opera is far from tragic despair, and instead of being full of intricate twists and turns, the second act is transformed into an ode to marriage, justice, and the brotherhood of man.
The opera is performed in the original German, with English and Czech subtitles.