Ludwig van Beethoven is a titan of classical music, his vast body of works bridging the Classical and Romantic Eras. Despite his skill as a composer, Beethoven only ever completed one opera: Fidelio. Nevertheless, if you had to be remembered by only one opera, you could do a lot worse than Fidelio. It’s a stirring story of the love of one woman for her husband. That woman, Leonore, disguises herself as a man named Fidelio to infiltrate a prison in Seville where her husband Florestan is imprisoned. Chaos, mistaken identities, and delightful tunes ensue!
By analyzing questions, you can see patterns emerge, patterns that will help you answer questions. Qwiz5 is all about those patterns. In each installment of Qwiz5, we take an answer line and look at its five most common clues. Here we explore five clues that will help you answer a tossup on Fidelio.
Beethoven spent far more time writing the Leonore overture than he did the actual opera itself. In fact, Beethoven wrote three separate overtures. Beethoven eventually scrapped all the overtures, but the third Leonore Overture can stand on its own as a cohesive work. Through deft orchestration Beethoven depicts Florestan’s isolation in prison before concluding on a triumphant C Major fanfare.
Every classic opera needs a classic villain. Don Pizarro, the governor of the prison where Florestan is illegally held, is just that scumbag. Florestan is Pizarro’s political rival, and the Don plans on having the former killed before the King finds out that he’s in jail. Pizarro’s most famous aria is Ha! Welch ein Augenblick (Ha! What a Moment) in which he lays out his plans to have Florestan murdered.
MIR IST SO WUNDERBAR
One of the defining moments of Fidelio’s first act is the Mir ist so Wunderbar quartet. The four overlapping voices in the quartet are Leonore (now disguised as Fidelio), the jailer Rocco, his daughter Marzelline, and Rocco’s assistant Jaquino. In the quartet Marzelline professes her romantic attraction for the mysterious stranger Fidelio while Leonore reflects on the danger of her situation. Rocco sings about how this stranger is a perfect match for his daughter. Poor Jaquino, who has always loved Marzelline, despairs over ever winning her heart.
LEB WOHL (FAREWELL)
Leonore, moved by the plight of the prisoners and eager to discover where Florestan is being held, convinces Rocco to let the prisoners out to enjoy the fresh air. The prisoners rejoice at being let out of their cramped cells, singing “O welche Lust” (“Oh, What a Joy!”). Pizarro, however, discovers the prisoners wandering the grounds and furiously demands that Rocco return them to their cells. The prisoners sing the famous aria “Leb wohl, du warmes Sonnelicht” (“Farewell, you Warm Sunshine”) as they gloomily return to the darkness.
In the opera’s second act Leonore accompanies Rocco on a grim mission. Knowing that Don Fernando, the king’s emissary, is approaching , Pizarro orders Rocco to dig a grave for Florestan. Leonore successfully begs Rocco to let her help. The two share a duet as they dig a grave. Rocco summons Pizarro with a whistle upon completing the grave, but Leonore successfully stops him from executing Fidelio until the timely arrival of Don Fernando.
Quizbowl is about learning, not rote memorization, so we encourage you to use this as a springboard for further reading rather than as an endpoint. Here are a few things to check out:
The story behind Fidelio’s premiere, and eventual revision, is a complicated one.
The COVID-19 pandemic left a jaw-dropping set for a new production of Fidelio unused.
Although over 200 hundred years old, Fidelio can still be reimagined to address current themes.
In addition to the political complications behind Fidelio’s premiere, Beethoven experienced creative struggles as well.
If you listen to “Mir ist so Wunderbar” be sure to do it with the subtitles on!
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