Ludwig van Beethoven’s only opera Fidelio is a dramatic beacon on the stage for surmounting arbitrary despotism and tyranny – as well as a hymn to love. The work, which occupied the composer as a “work in progress” for 10 years of his life with interruptions – “The opera will gain me a martyr’s crown” (Beethoven) – is based on the text “Léonore ou L’amour conjugal” by Jean-Nicolas Bouilly, which had a successful premiere in a setting by Pierre Gaveaux on 19 February 1798 at the Théâtre Feydeau in Paris, remaining in the repertoire there until 1801. The plot was based, as Bouilly later reported in his memoirs Mes Récapitulations published in 1836-37, on a true occurrence which had taken place when the Jacobins were ruling in the French département Indre-et-Loire. However, the French playwright transferred the story to a Spanish state prison close to Sevilla as a “fait historique espagnol”, a device that was also taken over in the Italian adaptation “Leonora ossia L’amor conjugale”, first heard in 1804 in a setting by Ferdinando Paërs.
Beethoven’s librettists Joseph Sonnleithner, Stephan von Breuning and Georg Friedrich Treitschke combined the storylines. The final Fidelio version, which was “tumultuously applauded” on 23 March 1814 at the Theater am Kärntnertor in Vienna (Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung), culminates in unprecedented rapture, with its C major hymn outshining everything, triumphing over all chains. It impressively bears witness to Beethoven’s lifelong motto, “love freedom above all; never disavow truth, not even before the throne”.
After performing Fidelio in a scenic version at this year’s Easter Festival in Baden-Baden, Kirill Petrenko will now conduct two concertante performances of Beethoven’s dramatic work in the Philharmonic Hall Berlin. Marlis Petersen, Artist in Residence of the Berliner Philharmoniker, will take on the role of Leonore, while Matthew Polenzani lends his distinctive tenor voice to her husband Florestan. The jailer Rocco is played by the British Peter Rose, who, with lots of enthusiasm, was already heard in the new productions of Strauss’s Rosenkavalier and Puccini’s Tosca at the Baden-Baden Easter Festival in 2015 and 2017. Marzelline, whose role provokes various theatrically effective conflicts through her love for the presumed young man Fidelio (Leonore), will be taken on by Hanna-Elisabeth Müller. The role of her “actual” lover Jaquino is sung by Austrian tenor Paul Schweinester. The cast list is completed by Wolfgang Koch (Don Pizarro) and Tareq Nazmi (Don Fernando), as well as by Rundfunkchor Berlin.