Following Wexford Festival Opera’s conclusion on Halloween, Irish National Opera (INO) raised its curtain on Beethoven’s Fidelio at Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre earlier this week with further performances tomorrow and Saturday, November 12 and 13.
Around 1802 Beethoven became acquainted with the play, Léonore, by French author Jean Nicolas Bouilly. Reading it in a German translation by his lawyer/musician friend Joseph Sonnleithner, Beethoven asked him to prepare a libretto.
Sonnleithner obliged and, with Beethoven conducting, the three-act opera – Leonore – opened at Vienna’s Theater an der Wien on November 20, 1805. A failure, it was withdrawn after three performances much to the composer’s chagrin but, when respected friends prevailed upon him, he reluctantly agreed to make changes.
Stephan von Breuning, one of the composer’s close circle, took to truncating the text while Beethoven made cuts in the music. The now two-act opera was relatively well received on March 29, 1806 but, when Beethoven had an altercation with the theatre’s manager, its scheduled performances were abruptly cancelled.
Following further revisions to the text by practical librettist Georg Friedrich Treitschke, Beethoven made additional incisions in his score. Renamed Fidelio, and suffused with heroic character, the opera was a complete success at Vienna’s Theater am Kärntnertor on May 23, 1814. For it, Beethoven had composed the last of the work’s four overtures.
The original one, now known as Leonore No 2, was written for the first production in 1805 while Leonore No 1 was intended for a Prague staging that never materialised. The more powerful Leonore No 3 dates from 1806.
The one commonly called the ‘Fidelio overture’ is now the opera’s standard introduction with the Leonore No 3 sometimes inserted into Act Two. However, this magisterial piece is really better regarded as a stand-alone tone poem.
Set in Seville, nobleman Florestan is incarcerated by sworn enemy, Don Pizzaro. Posing as the man Fidelio, Florestan’s wife, Leonore, manages to secure the position of chief jailer Rocco’s assistant.
As Florestan is about to be executed, Leonore reveals her true identity. The timely arrival of king’s minister, Don Fernando, leads to Florestan’s release and reunion with his beloved. Light relief in the tense drama comes through Marzelline, Rocco’s daughter and her fiancé, Jacquino.
Directed by Annabelle Comyn, Fergus Sheil conducts Fidelio at the Gaiety with INO cast led by Wexford soprano Sinéad Campbell-Wallace in the title role and English tenor Robert Murray as Florestan.
Australian bass Daniel Sumegi takes the part of Rocco with US baritone Brian Mulligan as Pizarro. Irish singers Kelli-Ann Masterson, Dean Power and David Howes complete the ensemble.
Away from opera, the Irish Baroque Orchestra (IBO), under director Peter Whelan, celebrates its silver jubilee with Bach’s six demanding Brandenburg Concerti at the National Concert Hall on Sunday, November 14.
Maestro Whelan and IBO also appear at the Ardee Baroque Festival in the town’s St Mary’s Church on Saturday, November 20. An evening of Handel and Bach includes the latter’s jubilant Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen cantata with Aisling Kenny, soprano and Darren Cornish Moore, trumpet. Full details at www.ardeebaroque.com.