Giuseppe Verdi


A weekly Quixotic pursuit for appreciators of opera who don't expect too much, would-be appreciators of opera who don't know what to expect, and those somewhere in-between,
such as your host.

Thrown together in haste every
Saturdee morning by
Rip Rense

Giacomo Puccini

SATURDEE OPRY LINKS 57: Beethoven's Birthday Edition!

The master.

Saturdee Opry Links Beethoven's Birthday Overture!
"Leonora" Overture No. 3
(One of four he wrote for his opera, "Fidelio.")

Poor old Beethoven fell hopelessly in love, or perhaps idealized admiration, with many a woman. It was never to be requited, except, perhaps, in the instance of the so-called "Immortal Beloved"---and even then, circumstances prevented closeness or marriage. Small wonder that he loved a worshipful poem by Frederich von Matthisson, "Adelaide," so much that he set it to impassioned music. This Beethoven's Birthday Saturdee Opry Links opens with it. Sung by Jussi Bjorling. 


Beethoven had a devil of a time writing his one opera, let alone getting it staged. He obstinately refused to make any alterations in its first incarnation, was furious at the suggestions that any were necessary---then, years later, took another look at the score and. . .made lots of alterations. Well, there's more to it than that, but in essence, that became the "Fidelio" that is still performed today. The opera is an essay in the triumph of the spirit, an exaltation of freedom. The story concerns the courage of Florestan, a political prisoner, and the equally courageous Leonora, who disguises herself as a prison guard to effect his rescue.
Here is tenor Jonas Kaufmann singing the wrenching aria, "Gott! welch' Dunkel hier!" ("God, what darkness here!") 
Synopsis : Imprisoned and close to death, Florestan sings that even though his life is now joyless, he can find solace because he has done his duty and he knows that what he did was right. He then thinks that he sees a vision of his wife, Leonora, coming as an angel to lead him to heaven.
About "Fidelio:" 

Author John Suchet talks about Beethoven's struggle to write an opera.

"At last, at a concert at the Gewandthaus, I heard one of the master's symphonies for the first time; it was the Symphony in A major. The effect on me was indescribable. To this must be added the impression produced on me by Beethoven's features, which I saw in the lithographs that were circulated everywhere at that time, and by the fact that he was deaf, and lived a quiet secluded life. I soon conceived an image of him in my mind as a sublime and unique supernatural being, with whom none could compare. This image was associated in my brain with that of Shakespeare; in ecstatic dreams I met both of them, saw and spoke to them, and on awakening found myself bathed in tears."---Richard Wagner.
Wagner's first opera, "Die Feen" ("The Fairies") was heavily and obviously influenced by the music of Beethoven. Here is "Lora's Aria," "O musst du Hoffnung schwinden" ("O hope, must you dwindle?") as sung by June Anderson. 
Synopsis: The kingdom of Tramond is being attacked by a neighboring kingdom whose king wants to claim Lora as his bride. The old king has died and Arindal is missing so the entire population of the kingdom is convinced that they are doomed. Lora, however, encourages the warriors that hope is still alive that Arindal will be found. Although she presents a brave front, she herself is also full of doubt. She wonders if even this hope will be extinguished and she will have no one at all.
Translation: (search for "O musst") 

Beethoven's deeply held belief in freedom is the primary theme in his opera, "Fidelio," was the motivating factor in his revolutionary "Eroica" symphony, and, it could be argued, was implicit in the very character of all his music. It certainly inspired Wagner's first successful opera, "Rienzi," the tale of a late medieval Italian populist who outwits and humiliates the nobles, in the process elevating the power of the people. (Evidently an early Rense.) Here is Rienzi's prayer, "Allmächt'ger Vater," ("Almighty Father"), with the great heldentenor, Rene Kollo. What would Beethoven have thought of this? Isn't this aria a kind of spiritual descendant of Florestan's in "Fidelio?" 
Synopsis : Rienzi has been excommunicated for leading a force of Roman citizens against the treacherous Roman nobles, prompting everyone to abandon their support of him. On the brink of disaster, Rienzi prays to God that he might be given strength to weather the crisis. He feels that he is doing God's work by empowering the common citizen.

Beethoven once told Rossini, whom he admired, to stick to comedy---that Italians had no sense of drama in writing operas. Sounds laughable now, but then, Beethoven died even before Bellini's trailblazing forays into operatic drama, let alone Donizetti and Verdi. Would Beethoven have revised his opinion had he heard Rossini's (seldom performed) "Otello?" Specifically, if he had heard Desdemona's "Willow Song?" Here is Frederica Von Stade with "Assisa a pie d’un salice." No translation available, but here, Desdemona grieves over Otello's bizarre jealousy, and the terrible fate it portends for her. 
A soprano muses about this aria: 

Here is another poem that Beethoven could not resist setting to music, this one by Goethe. Why? It's about being completely smitten by a woman. Here is "New Love, New Life," as sung by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. With English subtitles. 

Here is the great Mozart soprano, Lucia Popp, with "Oh, war' ich schon mit dir," from Beethoven's "Fidelio."
Synopsis: Marzelline, daughter of the jailer, Rocco, has fallen in love with her father's assistant, Fidelio. She sings of her joy and describes how their life will be together. 

Beethoven moved 40 or 50 (or more) times in his life. He fired servants constantly, bickered with landlords endlessly. A typical scene of Beethoven at home would find no decore except for a small portrait of his beloved grandfather. Music paper would be strewn everywhere, on the furniture, on the floor, all over the piano (later legless, its limbs severed so the deaf composer might feel the vibrations of the instrument on the floor.) A chamber pot, often filled overflowing, would sit near the piano, and a pitcher of water that the composer would pour over his head after long, feverish periods of writing. (The contents of both often spilled through the floor into the apartment below.) In one instance, servants stole his window shades and sold bits of them as souveniers, because they were covered with musical notation. Everything was geared only toward enabling him to work as much as possible. Here is Leonora's aria from "Fidelio."
"Komm, Hoffnung, lass den letzten Stern / Der Müden nicht erbleichen!" (Come, hope, let the last star / From fatigue not fade!") Aria begins at 2:20 or so.
Setting: The courtyard of a prison close to Seville
Synopsis: Leonora overhears Pizarro talking to Rocco about killing a prisoner whom she believes is her husband, Florestan. She wonders how he can be so cruel, but soon decides that love will help her overcome his evil plans. 

"Fidelio" was never a triumph in Beethoven's lifetime---really, quite the opposite. For all the human voice-like lyricism in his orchestral writing, it seems that vocal writing, at least in the context of opera, did not come easily. He half-planned, from time to time, subsequent operas, but never followed through. This seems surprising, given how voluminously he composed, and yet all his writing was hard fought, hard won. His scores are famously records of struggle, with countless cross-outs and discarded ideas. Yet to hear the last movement of the 9th symphony, with its four vocal soloists and chorus, you'd think that he was made to write for voice. Yet singers complained bitterly at the premiere of the work that the parts were impossible to sing. Beethoven wrote for vocalists the way he wrote for instruments, and this simply had not been done before. Besides, costs were prohibitive. While Beethoven was lucky to have sponsors throughout his life, mounting "Fidelio" was also complicated by the money involved. Here is the aria, "Hat man nicht auch Gold beineben / Kann man nicht ganz glücklich sein" ("You cannot be completely happy; If you don't have gold close by.") Baritone Matti Salminen. 
Setting: The courtyard of a prison close to Seville
Synopsis: Fidelio (who is really Leonora) has done a good job for Rocco. Rocco promises Fidelio that he will reward Fidelio by betrothing Fidelio to his daughter, Marzelline. He sings that a happy marriage needs one more thing besides love, though, and that is gold. He sings that gold makes a happy house and, without gold, love means nothing. Who can be happy if you are hungry all the time?

Final Beethoven's Birthday Bow:
"Mir ist so wunderbar," the quartet from "Fidelio." Here Beethoven broke through the sometimes labored, certainly laborious forging of "Fidelio," into something natural and graceful. If you think you can hear the qualities of Beethoven's string quartets here, you have a keen ear and understanding of music. For further elucidation and synopsis, I give you the excellent comments of a Chicago psychotherapist, Dr. Gerald Stein. 
Translation: go here and search for "wunderbar." 

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