Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827) Leonore Op. 72a
Opera in 3 Acts / Original Version of “Fidelio” 1805 Text: Joseph Sonnleithner and Georg Friedrich Treitschke
solos: 2SpSSTTBarBarB – choir: SATTBB – 2(picc).2.2.2.dble bsn – 184.108.40.206. – timp – str – stage music: trp
Characters: DON FERNANDO (baritone) – DON PIZARRO (baritone) – FLORESTAN (tenor) – LEONORE (soprano) – ROCCO (bass) – MARZELLINE (soprano) – JAQUINO (tenor) – 1st PRISONER (tenor) – 2nd PRISONER (bass)
Beethoven had invested two years of enthusiastic work in his opera that premiered in 1805 at the Theater an der Wien. Alas, though not with the desired success: present that evening was hardly any German-speaking audience, since most of the Viennese nobility had left the city ahead of Napoleon’s invading troops.
The vast majority of the audience consisted of French soldiers. In addition, the orchestra and singers were not up to the opera’s musical challenges, so the evening dragged on doggedly. As a result, Beethoven continued to revise his opera until he performed it again in 1814 as Fidelio. Yet, just what are the biggest differences between the two versions? First of all, the second version was drastically cut from three acts to two. Entire arias were sacrificed, but also long passages within individual numbers. The reduction to two acts also changed the work’s dramaturgy: in the three acts of the 1805 Leonore, each act follows its own dramaturgy and can be named after its main character.
In the first act Marzelline plays the main character, to be replaced in the second act by Leonore, whose great aria in the original version is both much longer than in Fidelio and rich in coloratura. In the tragic third act, Florestan plays the title character; his aria after the two-act wait remains in F minor – the F major part occurs only in the Fidelio version. The three-act Leonore first focuses on the family connections in the house of Rocco, the plot climaxing at Pizarro’s appearance and expanding at the same time musically in order finally to further intensify the dungeon act. The two-act Fidelio is, in comparison, streamlined, with a clear perspective on the stringent course of the dungeon scene. One hundred years after the premiere, Richard Strauss returned Leonore 1805 to the Berlin stage, based on a version reputably arranged according to the then knowledge and already published by Breitkopf & Härtel. Barely half a century later, Willy Hess made a thorough comparison of the various versions in 1953 and presented a performance material in his supplements to the complete edition that provided a reliable basis for re-evaluations.