Beethoven's Fidelio

I've reserved a special book and recording combination of Beethoven's Fidelio at the bookstore, but if you're a real fan, you'll want to see it, too.

If you want to own it on DVD:


The Metropolitan Opera Production ($26.99)


If you want to own it on VHS:


The Royal Opera Version ($29.95)

For reference:

Synopsis of Beethoven's Fidelio by Douglas Johnson

Act 1.i   A courtyard of the prison   Marzelline is ironing; Jaquino presses her on the subject of marriage (duet, ‘Jetzt, Schätzchen'). She rejects his pleas, for she has fallen in love with Fidelio, her father's new assistant (‘O wär ich schon mit dir vereint'). Rocco enters; Leonore, in her disguise as Fidelio, follows, laden with chains and supplies. Rocco takes Fidelio's hard work as a sign of interest in Marzelline (quartet in canon, led by Marzelline, ‘Mir ist so wunderbar!'; Fidelio and Jaquino express anxious thoughts). Rocco encourages the romance, but cautions that a successful marriage requires money (‘Hat man nicht auch Gold beineben'). Fidelio tests Rocco's trust by asking to accompany him to the subterranean cell where a prisoner is kept who she suspects may be her husband, Florestan (‘Gut, Söhnchen, gut').

1.ii  [Act 2, 1805 version]   A courtyard of the prison   To the sound of a march, the soldiers enter. Pizarro follows. He reads the dispatches, which include a letter warning of a surprise visit by the minister to question him about prisoners being held without cause. Having imprisoned Florestan for political reasons (only vaguely specified), Pizarro is forced to act. He stations a trumpeter in the tower and resolves to take his revenge at once (aria with chorus, ‘Ha! welch ein Augenblick!'). Pizarro calls Rocco aside and attempts, unsuccessfully, to enlist his aid in the murder (duet, ‘Jetzt, Alter, jetzt hat es Eile!'). The men leave. Leonore, who has observed them plotting, curses Pizarro and reaffirms her hope and her own resolve (accompanied recitative, ‘Abscheulicher! Wo eilst du hin?'; aria in two sections, ‘Komm, Hoffnung', ‘Ich folg' dem innern Triebe'). Rocco and Marzelline enter, and Leonore (now in her role as Fidelio again) persuades Rocco to allow some of the prisoners out into the open air. They emerge and sing in praise of freedom (‘O welche Lust!'); this begins the finale to Act 1. Rocco tells Fidelio that he has obtained permission for the marriage to Marzelline. He will also be permitted to take Fidelio to the cell of the mysterious prisoner, whose grave they must prepare. Jaquino and Marzelline rush in and warn of Pizarro's arrival. Pizarro is enraged by Rocco's presumption in letting the prisoners out, but Rocco deflects the anger by citing the king's name-day and noting that one prisoner has remained inside. The prisoners return to their cells (‘Leb wohl, du warmes Sonnenlicht').

Act 2.i [Act 3, 1805 version]   A subterranean cell   An orchestral introduction depicts the bleakness of the scene. In an accompanied recitative Florestan curses the darkness but accepts God's will (‘Gott! welch' Dunkel hier!'). His two-part aria laments the loss of his happiness as the price of having spoken the truth (‘In des Lebens Frühlingstagen') and ends with a vision of rescue by Leonore (‘Und spür' ich nicht linde, sanftsäuselnde Luft?'). Leonore enters, but with Rocco to uncover an abandoned cistern that is to serve as Florestan's grave (melodrama and duet, ‘Nur hurtig fort, nur frisch gegraben'). When the grave is ready, Florestan stirs. He asks for help and for water. Fidelio comes forward with wine and bread, which Rocco allows Florestan to receive in a communion-like trio (‘Euch werde Lohn in bessern Welten'). Rocco gives a signal, and Pizarro enters. The ensuing action takes place in a quartet (‘Er sterbe!'): Pizarro reveals his identity to Florestan, who stands defiant; when Pizarro draws his dagger, Leonore steps forward and reveals her own identity at last; as she halts Pizarro with a pistol, the trumpet from the tower signals the arrival of the minister. After Rocco and Pizarro have left the cell, Florestan and Leonore celebrate their reunion (duet, ‘O namenlose Freude!').

2.ii   The parade grounds of the prison   This entire scene is set musically as the finale of the act. The townspeople and the prisoners are assembled to greet Don Fernando, who enters accompanied by Pizarro (‘Heil sei dem Tag'). Rocco brings in Florestan and Leonore. Don Fernando recognizes his friend, believed dead, and orders Pizarro's arrest. The privilege of unlocking Florestan's chains is given to Leonore (‘O Gott! O welch ein Augenblick!'). The opera ends with a chorus in praise of Leonore's bravery (‘Wer ein holdes Weib errungen, stimm' in unsern Jubel ein').