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The Fidelio Synopsis provides a concise overview of Beethoven’s only opera, “Fidelio.”
Its libretto draws inspiration from a real-life event during the French Revolution, wherein a woman disguised as a man secured a position as a prison keeper to liberate her imprisoned spouse.
Fidelio Synopsis showcases a grand work that delves into themes of freedom, loyalty, ideals, and justice, resonating with audiences worldwide.
Beethoven’s musical brilliance shines through in the astute orchestration, a quality lauded by Berlioz.
Every note serves a purpose, with each effect meticulously chosen to advance the unfolding drama.
The voices, masterfully showcased, exude palpable emotion, adding depth to the performance.
Fidelio Synopsis: A Summary
Setting: A state prison in Spain, not far from Seville
Time: The late 18th century.
Two years before the story begins, a Spanish nobleman named Florestan (tenor) has uncovered, or at least attempted to uncover, certain wrongdoings of a rival nobleman named Don Pizarro (baritone).
In retaliation, Pizarro secretly confined Florestan in the very prison that he oversaw as governor.
At the same time, Pizarro had spread false stories about Florestan’s demise.
Within the prison, Rocco the Gaoler (bass) presides with his daughter Marzelline (soprano) and his assistant Jaquino (tenor), who harbors affection for Marzelline.
Meanwhile, Leonore (soprano), Florestan’s steadfast wife, suspects that her husband still lives.
To confirm this, she adopts a disguise as a boy, going by the name “Fidelio,” and secures a job working for Rocco.
As Fidelio, she wins the favor of her employer, Rocco, and captures the heart of his daughter Marzelline, much to Jaquino’s dismay.
Following orders, Rocco has been gradually reducing Florestan’s food until he is nearly on the brink of starvation.
Fidelio Synopsis: Act 1
The Prison Courtyard
In Rocco’s dwelling, Jaquino and Marzelline find themselves alone.
Jaquino musters the courage to ask Marzelline when she might consider marrying him.
However, Marzelline gently turns him down, confessing her newfound love for Fidelio. Little does she know that Fidelio is, in reality, Leonore in disguise.
(Jetzt, Schätzchen, jetzt sind wir allein—”Now, darling, now we are alone”).
Jaquino, disheartened, takes his leave, allowing Marzelline a moment to yearn for a future with Fidelio.
(O wär ich schon mit dir vereint—”If only I were already united with thee”).
Rocco and Jaquino Appear
Just then, Rocco steps in, inquiring about Fidelio’s whereabouts. Fidelio enters, bearing a weighty load of freshly mended chains.
Rocco commends Fidelio’s strength, misconstruing her humble response as a sign of affection for his daughter.
Together, Marzelline, Fidelio, Rocco, and Jaquino raise their voices in a quartet, expressing the depth of Marzelline’s love for Fidelio.
(Mir ist so wunderbar—”A wondrous feeling fills me”, also known as the Canon Quartet.)
Rocco Confides in Fidelio
Rocco shares with Fidelio in confidence that once the governor departs for Seville, Marzelline and Fidelio can proceed with their marriage.
Yet he cautions them that without financial means, their happiness might be compromised (Hat man nicht auch Gold beineben—”If you don’t have any money”).
Fidelio, curious and determined, questions Rocco about his reluctance to accept assistance in the prison, particularly given his recurring breathlessness upon his return.
Rocco reveals the existence of a particular cell where he dares not bring Fidelio, containing a man who has languished there for two long years.
Marzelline pleads with her father to shield Fidelio from such a distressing sight, but Fidelio asserts a bravery capable of facing it head-on.
United in their determination, Rocco, Fidelio, and even Marzelline join in a song of courage:
(Gut, Söhnchen, gut—”All right, sonny, all right”),
Their voices join in their spirited affirmations, ringing out in resolute harmony.
The Warden Arrives
Everyone departs, leaving only Rocco behind. A march fills the air as Pizarro strides in, accompanied by his guards.
Rocco issues a grave warning to Pizarro, revealing that the minister intends to pay an unexpected visit the following day to investigate allegations of Pizarro’s cruelty.
Pizarro reacts vehemently and declares that he cannot allow the minister to discover the incarcerated Florestan, who has long been presumed dead.
Instead, Pizarro resolves to end Florestan’s life: (Ha, welch ein Augenblick—”Hah! What a moment!”).
Pizarro Sets into Action
To signal the minister’s arrival, Pizarro orders the sounding of a trumpet.
He offers Rocco a bribe to carry out the gruesome task, but Rocco steadfastly refuses (Jetzt, Alter, jetzt hat es Eile! “Now, old man, we must hurry!”).
Pizarro declares that he will personally execute Florestan and instructs Rocco to prepare a grave on the dungeon’s floor.
Once the grave is ready, Rocco is to raise the alarm, at which point Pizarro will enter the dungeon and carry out the grim act.
Fidelio, who has overheard Pizarro’s sinister plan, is filled with anxiety but clings to the hope of rescuing Florestan. (Abscheulicher! Wo eilst du hin? and Komm, Hoffnung, lass den letzten Stern—”Monster! Where are you off to so fast?” and “Come, hope, let the last star”).
Leonore Persuades Rocco to Let the Prisoners Roam in the Garden
Once more, Jaquino implores Marzelline to marry him, yet she stands firm in her refusal.
Fidelio, with hopes of finding Florestan, requests Rocco’s permission to allow the impoverished prisoners some time in the garden to savor the beautiful weather.
Marzelline joins in the plea, and Rocco consents, planning to divert Pizarro’s attention while the prisoners are granted a brief reprieve.
The prisoners, elated by their temporary freedom, burst into a joyful song: (O welche Lust—”O what a joy”).
However, mindful of the ever-watchful prison governor, Pizarro, they soon fall silent.
After conferring with Pizarro, Rocco returns and informs Fidelio that Pizarro has granted approval for the marriage.
He also revealed that Fidelio is also permitted to accompany Rocco on his rounds in the dungeon: (Nun sprecht, wie ging’s?—”Speak, how did it go?”)
Rocco and Fidelio prepare to visit Florestan’s cell, fully aware that he must be dispatched and interred within the hour.
Fidelio is visibly shaken. Rocco attempts to dissuade Fidelio from going, but Fidelio remains insistent.
As they prepare themselves to depart, Jaquino and Marzelline rush in, urgently advising Rocco to flee, for Pizarro has discovered that the prisoners were granted respite and is now in a furious rage: (Ach, Vater, Vater, eilt!—”O, father, father, hurry!”).
Fidelio Synopsis: ACT 2
Scene 1: At the Prison Dungeon
Deep inside the dungeons, Florestan was left alone in his cell.
He begins by expressing his trust in God, then envisions his wife Leonore coming to his rescue: (Gott! Welch Dunkel hier! —”God! What darkness here”).
He also performs (In des Lebens Frühlingstagen—”In the spring days of life”).
As exhaustion takes over, Florestan collapses into slumber.
Meanwhile, Rocco and Fidelio arrive to dig his grave. While digging, Rocco urges Fidelio to quicken the pace: (Wie kalt ist es in diesem unterirdischen Gewölbe! —”How cold it is in this underground chamber”).
They also perform (Nur hurtig fort, nur frisch gegraben—”Come get to work and dig”, known as the “Gravedigging Duet”).
Fidelio Gives Florestan Wine and Bread.
Florestan awakens, and Fidelio recognizes him. Learning that Pizarro is the owner of this grim prison, Florestan requests that a message be sent to his wife, Leonore, but Rocco deems it impossible.
Thirsty and weak, Florestan pleads for a sip of water. Rocco instructs Fidelio to provide one.
Although Florestan doesn’t recognize Fidelio, his wife in disguise, he assures them both that their kindness will be rewarded in the afterlife: (Euch werde Lohn in bessern Welten —”You shall be rewarded in better worlds”).
Fidelio then implores Rocco to allow her to offer Florestan a crust of bread, to which Rocco agrees.
The Governor of the Prison Comes Down
Following orders, Rocco triggers the alarm, summoning Pizarro. Pizarro arrives and inquires if everything is prepared.
Rocco affirms that it is, then directs Fidelio to leave the dungeon. However, Fidelio chooses to conceal herself instead.
As Pizarro reveals his true identity to Florestan, the latter accuses him of attempted murder (Er sterbe! Doch er soll erst wissen —”Let him die! But first he should know”).
Pizarro draws a dagger, poised to strike, but just in the nick of time, Fidelio steps forward, revealing herself as Leonore, the devoted wife of Florestan.
With determination, she brandishes a gun and issues a powerful ultimatum.
At that very moment, the sound of a trumpet fills the air, signaling the minister’s arrival.
Jaquino hurries in, accompanied by soldiers, to report that the minister is waiting at the gate.
Rocco instructs the soldiers to accompany Governor Pizarro upstairs.
Florestan and Leonore sing of their triumph, while Pizarro vows vengeance.
Rocco, on the other hand, expresses his apprehension about the impending events (Es schlägt der Rache Stunde —”Revenge’s bell tolls”).
Together, Florestan and Leonore share a tender duet, reveling in their indescribable joy (O namenlose Freude! —”O unnamed joy!”).
Scene 2: The Prison Courtyard
The prisoners and townsfolk raise their voices in celebration of the long-awaited hour of justice: (Heil sei dem Tag! —”Hail to the day!”).
Don Fernando, the minister, proclaims the end of tyranny.
Rocco steps forward, accompanied by Leonore and Florestan, and implores Don Fernando for assistance. (Wohlan, so helfet! Helft den Armen! — “Come then, help! Help the poor ones!”)
Rocco recounts how Leonore, disguised as Fidelio, valiantly saved her husband. Marzelline, who was once in love with Fidelio, is shocked.
Rocco vividly describes Pizarro’s nasty plot, leading to Pizarro’s confinement.
Leonore tenderly frees Florestan from his chains.
At the same time, the assembled crowd extols the virtues of Leonore, the devoted savior of her husband: (Wer ein holdes Weib errungen —”Whoever has won a noble wife”).
Beethoven’s only opera stands as a masterpiece, telling an inspiring tale of courage and triumph.
Beyond the specific time and place of Spain in the 1600s, we can view it as a broader stage where some play the roles of prisoners and others act as their keepers.
There are oppressors (like Pizarro) and those who stand up for the oppressed (like Fidelio). This concept transcends any particular era.
The historical backdrop, in this case, is not the main focus. Beethoven’s primary aim was to explore the idea of freedom in a general sense, especially personal freedom.
He held a deep enthusiasm for the ideals of the French Revolution.
A standout moment is the ‘Prisoners’ Chorus’ in Act 1, etching an indelible memory.
Fidelio persuades the head jailer, Rocco, to grant the prisoners a taste of fresh air and sunlight, all in her quest to find her husband.
Their chorus, ‘O Welche Lust’ (‘O, What Joy’), bursts forth in musical rapture, made all the more powerful by their confined surroundings.
When Leonore overhears Don Pizarro’s sinister plot to harm her husband, she delivers one of the most gripping soprano arias in the repertoire, a fusion of terror and hope.
It commences with the exclamation ‘Abscheulicher!’ (‘Monster!’), and segues into a melody brimming with yearning, encapsulated in the words ‘Komm, Hoffnung’ (‘Come, Hope’).
Act 2 brings another intense emotional surge as the setting shifts from the prison yard to the dungeon.
Following a contemplative introduction, we are introduced to Florestan in his chains: he utters, ‘Gott! Welch Dunkel hier!’ (‘God! How dark it is here!’). He dreams of his wife’s arrival to rescue him.
Finally, when Leonore releases her husband and the chorus joins in the revelry to conclude the performance, the opera transforms into a jubilation of love and freedom.
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