Pre-performance Talk

This Talk was given at Lyric Opera Ireland’s production of Fidelio in the National Concert Hall Dublin on 22 and 23 February 2020.

George Fleeton

FIDELIO was Beethoven's only, completed opera, and we are presenting it in the final version first seen and heard in Vienna on 18 July 1814.

SINCE Lyric Opera Ireland’s initial fully-staged production 25 years ago, this is our first presentation of this work, as part of the Beethoven 250th anniversary events – his sestercentennial - in association with the National Concert Hall, and it will be is the only production of Fidelio in Ireland this year.

FIDELIO is the most prominent  'rescue' opera in European music - in which the essential part of the plot turns on a rescue, in this case, of a political prisoner by her wife, disguised as an assistant, male warder; her real name is Leonore/fictitious name Fidelio, and her husband is called Florestan.

FLORESTAN is trapped in a state of living death by a dark, vengeful figure called Pizarro, the tyrannical prison governor; we don't meet Florestan until Act 2, and his rescue is seen entirely from Leonore/Fidelio's point of view.

SHE is a mature woman, not a naive, passive young heroine, the most pro-active character in the opera, determined, courageous, fully aware of what she is doing.

FLORESTAN’s physical and spiritual imprisonment has reduced him to helplessness and despair; a high-born Spanish state official, he had been about to expose Pizarro's fascist, political crimes, but was captured (two years before the opera starts) and was thrown into a deep, secret dungeon in a dreadful prison near Seville, believed murdered by his enemies; Leonore/Fidelio has always refused to accept this.

THAT contrast between the two principals is the main driver of the opera and it is underscored by Beethoven’s masterly symphonic-style music (he had written six symphonies by then) in which the voices become key instruments giving maximum effect to the orchestration.

THIS opera has a big sound; it is not a tragedy, it is very serious-minded and there are few laughs in the narrative, although the opening scenes in Act 1 are comparatively lightweight, giving little hint of the much more dramatic Act 2.

BEETHOVEN was born in Bonn, December 1770; he settled in Vienna around 1792 and died there, aged 56, in March 1827.

Always a man of brusque, sometimes furious manner, his eccentricities grew after his discovery, at the turn of the century, that he was going deaf, an affliction that worsened steadily over the next 20 years, and he began noticeably to turn in upon himself, becoming paranoid and introverted.

UNTIL 1809, Beethoven’s mentor was Franz Joseph Haydn (a friend of Mozart) and so-called father of the symphony: he wrote over 100 of them; Mozart wrote about 40; Beethoven 9.

BEETHOVEN was pre-eminently an instrumental / orchestral composer, and he reshaped and poured powerful new life into the sonata, symphony and concerto forms, which he had, in a real sense, inherited from the time of Mozart and Haydn.

HIS colossal expansion and re-imagining of those late 18th C forms and styles,  and the penetration of his later works with personal emotion (this would include the 1814 edition of Fidelio which he referred to as his Sorgenkind - problem child) means that he is the most important composer to bridge the Classical age of European music with the Romantic.

IN his choral music he often wrote too high for the voices available to him, and when he got over-excited the big volumes of choral sound can be a bit overwhelming.

BUT perhaps he needed those sudden bursts of loud sounds which he so delighted in when writing for piano or orchestra.

FINALLY on behalf of the Company, our singers, Carlow Choral Society and the SinfoNua Orchestra, thank you for your continued support for our efforts to stage mainstream opera in Dublin – without a single euro of public  funding.

WE are immensely proud to mark 25 years in business and we are actively planning future productions.

IT promises to be a fascinating journey – please continue to join us on our travels.

VIELEN Dank /Thank you.

©georgefleetonmmxx