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Delivery from Despair: Beethoven's 'Fidelio'

Have you ever heard an opera by Pierre Gaveaux, Simon Mayr or Ferdinando Paer? No? Well, a couple of centuries ago, all three of them wrote operas about a daring wife who infiltrates a dangerous prison to rescue her condemned husband.

There were others who wrote operas on the same subject, and most of them are just as obscure. That's because Ludwig van Beethoven also took the story into the opera house, with Fidelio, and that brilliant drama has long since overshadowed all the rest.

Fidelio falls into a genre known as "rescue opera," a loosely defined term that was coined well after the fact. It's generally used to describe a type of opera that developed in France at the time of the French Revolution, and quickly became popular all over Europe. And why not? At some point or another just about everyone needs to be rescued, emotionally if not physically.

At their finest, rescue operas involve more than just the heroic rescue of an individual from mortal danger. They also portray a rescuer so heroic that he or she willingly risked everything in the cause, and an outcome that signals nothing less than the triumph of human will and freedom over injustice and tyranny. Fidelio provides all that, with plenty of drama and emotion to spare.

On World of Opera, host Lisa Simeone presents an unusual and innovative production of Beethoven's only opera, from the Hungarian State Opera in Budapest. While the singers portray the principal characters on one level of the multi-tiered stage, the drama is also presented on another level by actors, playing symbolic, silent roles. Soprano Tunde Szaboki and tenor Thomas Moser star as the troubled couple Leonore and Florestan, in a performance led by conductor Adam Fischer.

See the previous edition of World of Opera or the full archive

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