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Strife and Salvation: Beethoven's 'Fidelio'

Have you ever heard an opera by Pierre Gaveaux, Simon Mayr or Ferdinando Paer? Names don't sound familiar?

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 -- if not physically, then at least emotionally.

At their finest, rescue operas involve more than just the heroic 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 Simeonepresents Beethoven's Fidelio from the Lucerne Festival, starring one of today's most acclaimed tenors, Jonas Kaufmann, in the role of Florestan -- the prisoner in need of rescue. The production also features soprano Nina Stemme as his wife, Leonore, and bass-baritone Falk Struckmann in a dramatic performance as Florestan's villainous nemesis, Don Pizarro.

See the previous edition of World of Opera or the full archive

Copyright 2011 WDAV

Bruce Scott
Bruce Scott is supervising producer of World of Opera. He also produces NPR's long-running, annual special Chanukah Lights, with Susan Stamberg and Murray Horwitz.