This story begins in Tours, spring 1794. At the height of the Terror, the Countess of Semblançay disguises herself as a man to be hired as a prison guard, where her husband is in irons. She successfully escapes and saves him from the guillotine. The case caused a stir. In Paris, Nicolas Bouilly, a rather laborious playwright, nicknamed the “Tear poet” he loves melodrama so much, draws a play from it. Then an opera libretto, set to music in 1798 by the composer Pierre Gaveaux and given without much success under the title Leonore or marital love at the Feydeau theater. The echo of so many tribulations comes to the ears of Joseph von Sonnleithner, secretary of the Imperial Theater in Vienna, who in turn writes a play in three acts on this beautiful plot. But the best is yet to come.
In Vienna, where he settled in 1792, Beethoven is just over thirty years old. The idea is close to his heart to compose an opera but he fails to take the first step. Emmanuel Schikaneder will help him there. This handyman from the Viennese scene writes plays or booklets as well as playing them in the theater or singing them at the opera. He is manager and theater director. His path has already crossed that of Mozart, of whom he was the friend, the advice and the material support, providing him with the booklet of The Magic Flute, and the theater, and the troupe for its creation.
So here he is, ten years later, alongside Beethoven, encouraging him to write this opera which he plans to stage at the Theater an der Wien which he still owns. Sonnleithner transforms his play into a booklet in three acts and Beethoven will work there for almost three years. “This opera, he writes, will earn me the crown of martyrs ”. Schikaneder helps him in any way. He even hosted him in the theater for several months. His way of the cross was not finished. The creation at the end of 1805 was a failure. Beethoven practically did not cease to hold the work on the trade nearly ten years during: three partitions, four openings.
Fidelio is comfort.
Since the creation of the third version and its success in 1814, Beethoven’s unique lyric composition has stood apart. Of all the operas, Fidelio is the one who puts the spectator the most in front of himself. The drivers of the action are simple: the denunciation of injustice, conjugal love, fraternity, freedom. The momentum of music is in total rupture with what has been written so far. Fidelio is comfort.
For the 250th anniversary of the birth of Beethoven, a gigantic festival of his works covers the planet throughout the year. Discover, in this far from exhaustive list, where to hear and see Fidelio through Europe.
At the opera, in concert, at the cinema
The first date to come is at Paris. It is also one of the most interesting of all that is planned. Only once on stage at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, in a concert version, sung by an entirely Swedish set, often praised, it is full of promise. We are delighted in advance by the rare presence of the Swedish radio choir with a unique color and even more so that of Nina Stemme, for whom the role of Leonore seems to be cut as close as possible, timbre, power and expressiveness. Do not waste a moment to reserve (1). If you cannot find a place on avenue Montaigne, you will try your luck across the Rhine for the next day at Essen with the same interpreters (2).
Always at Paris, also in concert version, Elza van den Heever and Eric Cutler will be conducted at the Philharmonie by Simone Young, the Australian conductor who is currently a candidate with a dozen other applicants for the direction of the Paris Orchestra. The South African soprano has just shone in her first Empress of The Shadowless Woman to the TCE (3).
In a few days, and this will be the event of the lyric season across the Channel, Jonas Kaufmann will once again play Florestan on the stage of Covent Garden at London ; by her side Lise Davidsen, who will make her debut in Leonore. Directed by Tobias Kratzer and directed by Antonio Pappano, the show has been sold out since the rental opened. But it will be broadcast live in cinemas around the world on March 17 (4).
Across the Rhine, profusion of proposals. That of the Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden is one of the most tempting. The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra comes with the new conductor it has chosen. What will do Fidelio the hot Kirill Petrenko? Marlis Petersen will be Leonore and Matthew Polenzani will be Florestan (5). So answer to Baden, in the largest German concert hall. Or, failing that, a few days later at Berlin in the Philharmoniker’s lair, with the same distribution (6). AT Berlin The Staatsoper will also resume the indestructible production by Harry Kupfer. We will find Simone Young on the stick, but with Michaela Kaune and Simon O’Neill, for a series of six evenings (7).
With the exception of those in London and Berlin, the performances listed above are given in concert version. The density of the booklet, the powerful characterization of the two main characters and their total pre-eminence help to accommodate the lack of staging. But an opera is not an opera without a theater. Two other German houses recall this. AT Hamburg, the owner Georges Delnon will sign a new production of Fidelio given under the direction of Kent Nagano, where we will be eager to hear Falk Struckmann in Rocco (8). Which Struckmann will also be distributed at the Semperoper of Dresden with Stephen Gould in Florestan (9). AT Prague a production by the State Opera troupe will be performed under the baton of Andreas Weiser (10).
Austrians are spoiled with Vienna three flagship productions. The Theater an der Wien, where Fidelio was created in 1805, entrusted the actor Christoph Waltz with the production. This composer child, who at 10 was going to listen to Birgit Nilsson in Turandot and studied singing, this is not his first try: he has already designed productions of Knight of the Rose or from Falstaff. On stage, from March 16, the Americans Eric Curtler and Nicole Chevalier; in the pit the Wiener Symphoniker and Manfred Honeck (11). After climbing in February (and for the first time) Leonore, the original version of Beethoven’s opera, the Wiener Staatsoper has chosen to align its historic performance signed by Otto Schenk. Five performances are scheduled in April (which will add to the 200 or so of this production given since 1970). With luxury Florestan, tenor Andreas Schager (12).
Gustavo Dudamel, the Venezuelan chef who carved out a great success last year in Dortmund by tackling Fidelio for the first time, will begin a mini-tour of Europe to give Beethoven’s opera, with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, successively at Barcelona (13) Madrid (14) Dortmund (15) and luxembourg (16).
AT Florence, the musical May will leave with a double asset: Gregory Kunde, in itself, is worth the trip for the great Florestan that we owe him. And also because the opportunity will be given to get to know Heidi Melton, a formidable American Wagnerian better. Zubin Mehta will be with the rod (17).
The anniversary season continues with fireworks, shot at Gstaad in the Bernese Alps, with, higher and higher towards the stars, Falk Struckmann in Rocco, Christina Landshamer in Marcelline, nothing less than Anja Kampe in the title role and -assumption assuming- Jonas Kaufmann, all directed by Jaap van Zweden. It remains to warn, with care, that the rental has been sold out for a long time. But here too, a second chance is given to amateurs. The whole Gstaad troop will descend to Vienna, stop at Grafenegg and will give Fidelio in the park of the castle (18).
The adventure continues on the other side of the Channel, at the festival of Glyndebourne where a month during Robin Ticciati will guide the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Emma Bell and David Butt Philip in a production signed Frederic Wake-Walker (19).
Back to the roots, finally, in September with the Beethoven Festival of Bonn who will give Fidelio the 20 in a production by Volker Lösch, directed by Dirk Kaftan. But the most curious will be in Beethoven’s hometown on September 5 to hear Fidelio 1944, an evocation of the legendary radio concert that Arturo Toscanini gave with the NBC Symphony Orchestra in December of this year, while Europe at war was fighting for the final collapse of Nazism and the liberation of its peoples. The show, conceived and directed by the very intelligent Hungarian chef Adam Fischer and the no less talented Düsseldorfer Symphoniker, promises to recall how freedom is precious, fragile, vital and how much we must always fight for it. A lesson that Fidelio and Beethoven have been reminding us for over two centuries.
1. Champs-Élysées Theater, Paris, February 27.
2. Essen Philharmonic, February 29.
3. Philharmonie de Paris, May 27 and 29.
4. Covent Garden, London, March 1 to 17.
5. Festspielhaus, Baden-Baden, April 4-13.
6. Berlin Philharmonic on April 17 and 19.
7. Staatsoper Unter den Linden, in Berlin, from 6 to 24 but.
8. Staatsoper, Hamburg, from April 28 to May 14.
9. Semperoper, in Dresden, May 28 and June 5.
10. Státní Opera, in Prague, from March 5 to 28.
11. Theater an der Wien, Vienna, March 16-27.
12. Wiener Staatsoper, in Vienna, from April 22 to May 5.
13. Palau de la Música, in Barcelona, April 14.
14. Teatro Réal, in Madrid, April 17.
15. Konzerthaus, in Dortmund, April 22.
16. Philharmonie, in Luxembourg, April 24.
17. Teatro del Maggio Musicale, in Florence, May 28 and 31.
18. Gstaad Festival, August 14.
19. Grafenegg Festival, August 16.
20. Beethoven Festival, in Bonn, September 5 and 20.