In two acts by L. van BEETHOVEN.
This opera, the only one by the greatest of German composers, is also
one of the most exquisite we possess. The music is so grand and
sublime, so passionate and deep, that it enters into the heart of the
hearer. The libretto is also full of the highest and most beautiful
Florestan, a Spanish nobleman, has dared to blame Don Pizarro, t
governor of the state-prison, a man as cruel as he is powerful.
Pizarro has thus become Florestan's deadly foe, he has seized him
secretly and thrown him into a dreadful dungeon, reporting his death to
But this poor prisoner has a wife, Leonore, who is as courageous as she
is faithful. She never believes in the false reports, but disguising
herself in male attire, resolves not to rest until she has found her
In this disguise we find her in the first act; she has contrived to get
entrance into the fortress where she supposes her husband
imprisoned, and by her gentle and courteous behaviour, and readiness
for service of all kinds has won not only the heart of Rocco, the
jailer, but that of his daughter Marcelline, who falls in love with the
gentle youth and neglects her former lover Jaquino. Fidelio persuades
Rocco to let her help him in his office with the prisoners. Quivering
with mingled hope and fear she opens the prison gates, to let the state
prisoners out into the court, where they may for once have air and
But seek as she may, she cannot find her husband and in silent despair
she deems herself baffled.
Meanwhile Pizarro has received a letter from Sevilla, announcing the
Minister's forthcoming visit to the fortress. Pizarro, frightened at
the consequences of such a call, resolves to silence Florestan for
ever. He orders the jailer to kill him, but the old man will not
burden his soul with a murder and refuses firmly. Then Pizarro himself
determines to kill Florestan, and summons Rocco to dig a grave in the
dungeon, in order to hide all traces of the crime.
Rocco, already looking upon the gentle and diligent Fidelio as his
future son-in-law, confides to him his dreadful secret, and with
fearful forebodings she entreats him to accept her help in the heavy
work. Pizarro gives his permission, Rocco being too old and feeble to
do the work quickly enough if alone; Pizarro has been rendered furious
by the indulgence granted to the prisoners at Fidelio's entreaty,
but a feeling of triumph overcomes every other, when he sees Rocco
depart for the dungeon with his assistant.
Here we find poor Florestan chained to a stone; he is wasted to a
skeleton as his food has been reduced in quantity week by week by the
cruel orders of his tormentor. He is gradually losing his reason; he
has visions and in each one beholds his beloved wife.
When Leonore recognizes him, she well-nigh faints, but with a
supernatural effort of strength she rallies, and begins her work. She
has a piece of bread with her, which she gives to the prisoner and with
it the remainder of Rocco's wine. Rocco, mild at heart, pities his
victim sincerely, but he dares not act against the orders of his
superior, fearing to lose his position, or even his life.
While Leonore refreshes the sick man, Rocco gives a sign to Pizarro,
that the work is done, and bids Fidelio leave; but she only hides
herself behind a stone-pillar, waiting with deadly fear for the coming
event and decided to save her husband or to die with him.
Pizarro enters, secretly resolved to kill not only his foe, but also
both witnesses of his crime. He will not kill Florestan however
without letting him know, who his assailant is. So he loudly shouts
his own much-feared name, but while he raises his dagger, Leonore
throws herself between him and Florestan, shielding the latter with her
breast. Pizarro, stupefied like Florestan, loses his presence of
mind. Leonore profits by it and presents a pistol at him, with which
she threatens his life, should he attempt another attack. At this
critical moment the trumpets sound, announcing the arrival of the
Minister, and Pizarro, in impotent wrath is compelled to retreat. They
are all summoned before the Minister, who is shocked at seeing his old
friend Florestan in this sad state, but not the less delighted with and
full of reverence for the noble courage of Leonore.
Pizarro is conducted away in chains, and the faithful wife with her own
hands removes the fetters, which still bind the husband for whom she
has just won freedom and happiness.
Marcelline, feeling inclined to be ashamed of her mistake, returns to
her simple and faithful lover Jaquino.