As Kentucky Opera prepares its production of Ludwig van Beethoven’s sole opera Fidelio, let’s look back at the work’s popularity through the years.
When Beethoven’s Fidelio premiered on November 20, 1805, the house was half full. The performance was deemed a failure. The production was repeated twice and then dropped. The work returned to the stage in March of the following year after Beethoven make some cuts and other changes. It failed again. Fidelio was tried once again the next season, but attracted only the cognoscenti of the buying public. Angry with his creation, Beethoven withdrew the work and completely revised it in 1814.
Thirteen years later, Beethoven presented the manuscript to his close friend and biographer, Anton Schindler. Near death, Beethoven reportedly said, “Of all my children, this is the one that cost me the worst birth-pangs and brought me the most sorrow; and for that reason it is the one most dear to me.”
Fidelio is much loved in today’s opera world and holds an honored place in the repertoire. It’s also well represented on Compact Disc recordings. However, since the mid 20th century the work is revived only sporadically due its lack of box office success. Perhaps due to its inconsistent style: the first scene is largely Singspiel, or light opera. Or it could be the naivete of the plot which contrasts with the fiery emotional pull of the music.
Enjoy this moment when Fidelio allows the prisoners to experience the sunlight.