Libretto by Giovanni Schmidt, after Jean-Nicolas Bouilly
English translation by Gilly French and Jeremy Gray
The Deanery garden, Bampton, 18 and 19 July 2008
St John’s, Smith Square, London, 16 September 2008
|Rocco a jailer||Adrian Powter|
Marcellina his daughter
||Emily Rowley Jones|
|Giacchinno in love with Marcellina||Samuel Evans|
|Leonora disguised as Fidelio, wife of Florestan||Cara McHardy|
|Don Pizzarro a ruthless prison governor||Jonathan Stoughton|
|Don Florestan a political prisoner||Michael Bracegirdle|
|Don Fernando||John Upperton|
with the Orchestra of Bampton Classical Opera (July)
The London Mozart Players (September)
For two years, Don Florestan has been held as a secret prisoner in a deep dungeon, the innocent victim of the machinations of a corrupt prison governor Pizzarro. Although his friends, including the government minister Don Fernando, believe he is dead, his wife Leonora clings to hope and is determined to find and rescue him. In disguise as a young man, ‘Fidelio’, she manages to get herself engaged as an assistant to the head jailer of the prison, Rocco. However, her disguise is so effective that Rocco’s daughter Marcellina falls in love with her, to the dismay of the prison gate-keeper Giacchino, who had planned to marry the girl himself.
In the prison courtyard, Marcellina is washing clothes and musing on her new love for the stranger ‘Fidelio’. Giacchino tries to court her, but is repeatedly interrupted by deliveries at the prison gate. Rocco joins them and complains about their bickering. Leonora, in disguise as Fidelio, returns bearing heavy chains which have been repaired and, to ‘his’ embarrassment, plans are discussed for marriage to Marcellina. However ‘he’ manages to lead Rocco onto the subject of the secret dungeons, who explains that there is one cell where the inmate, whose identity is unknown even to him, is being slowly starved to death. Pizzarro enters with his guards and receives a message warning him that the Minister is suspicious about illegally held prisoners and is planning a visit of inspection.
Left alone, Leonora expresses her hatred for Pizzarro, her undying love for Florestan, and begs for heavenly courage and strength.
Marcellina is still being pestered by Giacchino and declares that only magic could transform him into Fidelio and therefore cause her to love him. Rocco returns from discussions with Pizzarro and gives orders for certain preparations to be made – Leonora prises out the truth that the secret prisoner is to be murdered that day, Rocco having been paid handsomely with gold for his complicity. Pizzarro is prevailed upon to allow Rocco to take ‘Fidelio’ as an assistant down to the dungeons. Marcellina urges her father to allow her wedding to take place immediately, but Leonora manages to delay this until the evening. The act ends with an ensemble of conflicting emotions.
In a dark and deep dungeon, Florestan has been languishing for two years and is weakened by starvation and isolation. In a passionate outburst he bewails his fate but holds dear to the memory of his wife, whose portrait he has managed to secrete. He collapses before Rocco and ‘Fidelio’ enter the cell. Leonora cannot see the prisoner’s face and so cannot be certain that it is her husband. They move rubble to uncover an old well where Rocco, on Pizzarro’s orders, plans to dispose of Florestan’s body. Florestan recovers and begs for water, revealing his name. Rocco is prepared to offer a little wine, and Leonora has some bread, but Florestan’s gratitude is almost unbearable to her.
Rocco gives the pre-arranged signal, and a masked man enters to murder the prisoner. Leonora is ordered to leave, but hides in the shadows. As the assassin is about to kill Florestan, she rushes out to interpose herself, revealing that she is Florestan’s wife. In turn the assassin reveals himself as Pizzarro. In a struggle, Leonora produces a pistol and aims it at Pizzarro, but her action is interrupted by the sound of a trumpet. Pizzarro and Rocco realise this heralds the arrival of the Minister, but Leonora and Florestan imagine that it is a signal of doom. Pizzarro exits with Rocco, who wrests the pistol from Leonora as they leave.
The hapless couple, trapped in the dungeon, are abandoned to despair, tempered only by their rediscovered love. As Leonora is about to explain her ploy, Marcellina enters – she has stolen her father’s keys and is intent on rescuing her beloved from any danger. ‘Fidelio’ refuses to leave and, in front of her husband, has to swear love to Marcellina in order to persuade her to take a message to the Minister.
The couple cling to each other and steel themselves for possible death. Suddenly the dungeon is entered by the Minister and the others. Florestan recognises his old friend, Don Fernando. Fernando has had the situation explained to him by Rocco. Rocco now explains that he had seized Leonora’s pistol in case desperation drove her to rash action. Marcellina complains about Leonora’s deceit, and Leonora promises to pay her a dowry: Giacchino quickly presents himself as a candidate. Pizzarro is condemned and led away, and the opera ends in praise of virtue and courage.
A fascinating evening
Opera, October 2008
a high quality cast
Opera Now, November/December 2008
this imaginative, focused production
Opera Today, 22 September 2008
something out of the ordinary
The Oxford Times, 25 July 2008