Strife and Salvation: Beethoven's 'Fidelio'

woo-1506-fidelio-250Have you ever heard an opera by Pierre Gaveaux, Simon Mayr or Ferdinando Paer? No? Well, they were all quite trendy in their time.

A couple of centuries ago each of them wrote operas featuring daring wives who risked their lives to rescue their condemned husbands, a popular plotline in the early 1800s. Any number of other composers also exploited the trend -- and by now most of them are just as obscure as the three just mentioned. 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 gallant rescue of an individual from mortal danger. They also portray a rescuer so heroic that he or she willingly risks everything in the cause, with an outcome that signals the inevitable 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 Beethoven's Fidelio, one of the greatest of all German operas, from the cradle of Italian opera, La Scala in Milan. Soprano Anja Kampe and tenor Klaus Florian Vogt star as Leonore and Florestan, with bass-baritone Falk Struckmann in a dramatic performance as the villain Don Pizarro, in a production led by conductor Daniel Barenboim.