Beethoven - Overture to Fidelio, Op. 72b
Chicago Symphony Orch.
Fritz Reiner, cond.
Beethoven’s Fidelio in two acts, his only opera, pointedly celebrates a triumph of the human spirit over social and political tyranny. More precisely, it tells the story of a wrongly imprisoned whistleblower who is able to achieve justice. In the climate of the first decade of the 19th Century, perhaps only the brazen Beethoven could have developed Bouilly’s scenario with such steadfast sincerity—and Fidelio is even more remarkable in its reliance on a strong female lead character, Leonore. In fact, the opera originally bore her name for a title, as do some early drafts of overtures for the production which are still performed as concert works today.
The composition of Fidelio was no small struggle for Beethoven, who even after several revisions considered the final product a “shipwreck” and never again completed a large work for the stage. The poor reception at the Vienna premiere could most likely be ascribed to the fact that the highly politically charged drama was attended by an audience composed largely of Napoleon’s invading army; but the young Franz Schubert was also there, having sold his school books to obtain a ticket.
Presented here is the overture which Beethoven finally settled on after several tries. It is lighter and more straightforwardly energetic than its earlier counterparts, reminding us in some ways of the finale to the Symphony No. 5 or even of the dizzying heights reached in the choral finale of the Ninth.
(Delacroix | The Lion, 1850)