Written by – DANIELE CAPUZZI
Translated by – LEANDRO BONAN
At 8 p.m. on the 7th of December, the lights of the Piermarini Theatre has been turned off to allow the start of the night, paving the way to one of the most intense seasons that the Teatro alla Scala will have. The departing director, Stéphane Lissner, together with incoming director Alexander Pereira, decided to capitalize on the opportunity offered by the Expo2015. The number of operas on the playbill is incredibly big: seventeen.
The core of the debate this year has been focused certainly on the choice of the artistic director, Daniel Barenboim, to inaugurate the season with Fidelio, by Beethoven. Most people might consider it unfit to be represented at the debut, especially when considering the delay with which the opera arrived on the Milanese stage (1949). However, it is useful to remember that the play was vested with this important role twice already: in 1974 and in 1999.
Fidelio is the only opera written by the Bonn-born composer, and it has a very tormented story starting with the overture. Four versions were written during a period of roughly ten years, each one after a general revision of the structure of the opera. The first one, today know as Leonore n.2 (composition n. 72), paved the way to a three-act score. Following that version, Leonore n.3 (comp. n. 72a) was born. The latter functioned as a preamble to a revised two-act singspiel entitled Leonore, oder der Triumph der ehelichen Liebe [Leonore, or the triumph or the conjugal love]. Those first compositions had the flaw of being excessively symphony-like, both for their duration and for anticipating the themes of the entire score. In fact, even nowadays they have great success as orchestral pieces on their own. A third version was written in 1808, but it was rapidly substituted by the more delicate actual overture in 1814.
During an introductory press conference held at the Università Cattolica in Milano on November 25, director Daniel Barenboim explained that he prefers the two-act version ¬– but also considered the importance of the previous elaborations of the opera.
In fact, Leonore n.2 will be the prelude to Fidelio, because “in that version there is room for doubt, for uncertainty, whereas in the Leonore n.3 the whole idea of the opera is contained.”
Beethoven, similar to his illustrious maestro Joseph Haydn, is well known as one of the first notorious composers to embrace the ideals of the Enlightenment, as the dedication of the concert for piano and orchestra n. 5 comp. 73 shows. It is in fact better known as the Concert for the Emperor, written to celebrate Napoleon Bonaparte, who was initially thought to be the liberator of the oppressed European peoples. It is not difficult to notice that the aforementioned concerto is the piece composed immediately after Fidelio. That makes many believe that the Beethoven singspiel addresses especially political issues concerning individual freedom, espousing perfectly the desire of democracy experienced at the time. The presence of the ideals of Enlightenment can be inferred from the first aria (Act II, scene I) of the protagonist, Florestan, who sings:
In des Lebens Frühlingstagen
ist das Glück von mir geflohn;
Wahrheit wagt ich kühn zu sagen,
und die Ketten sind mein Lohn.
[During the spring of life
Happiness flew away from me;
I dared telling the truth with courage,
And the chains are my award.]
It is common to forget, though, the main theme of the entire plot: the love of Leonore for Florestan. The latter is imprisoned in the dungeon of the State penitentiary ruled by the powerful Governor Don Pizarro in picturesque eighteenth century Seville. Florestan lives without heat with smaller and smaller rations of food. His tenacious wife, Leonore, conceals herself by pretending to be the fictitious character Fidelio. She manages through clever stratagems to go with Rocco, the prison guardian, to dig the pit where her husband will be buried before the arrival of the minister don Fernando, in order to hide the traces of the tyranny that Florestan and the other prisoners bear.
Her limitless passion for her companion brings her to challenge power, to secretly investigate under false name, to risk her life to rescue her beloved. It is impossible, hence, not to appreciate the ardent feeling of Leonore, who leaves nothing to be envied of the seemingly more passionate melodramas of the nineteenth century.