Schiller Institute on YouTube Schiller Institute on Facebook RSS

Home >

Schiller Institute 30th Anniversary Conference

The New Silk Road and China's Lunar Program:
Mankind Is the Only Creative Species!

Frankfurt, Germany
October 18-19, 2014

Back to main conference page

Fidelio (1814), Beethoven’s only opera, celebrates the triumph of justice, love and freedom over tyranny, injustice and political persecution, a theme dear to the great German composer.

The plot:

Leonore, disguised as a man (under the name Fidelio, from the latin fidelis which means faithful, loyal, strong and truthful), enters the prison of Don Pizarro in order to free her husband Florestan, who has been unjustly imprisoned for fighting oppression.

In order to get access to Florestan, she wins the favor of Rocco, the jailer, and his daughter Marzelline. Although Marzelline is promised in marriage to Jaquino, she falls in love with Fidelio, thinking she is a man. All four characters express their divergent views in the famous quartet Mir ist so wunderbar.

When the Prime Minister Don Fernando, who knows Florestan and esteems him as an honest man, announces he will visit the prison, Pizarro fears that he will free Florestan, and unmask the evil scheme that brought him to prison. Thus, the evil Pizarro plans to kill the innocent political prisoner.

Leonore/Fidelio convinces Rocco to let all the prisoners out into the fresh air in order to find her husband, who turns out not to be among them. The famous prisoners’ chorus O welche Lust, sung at this point of the opera, reminds us of another famous prisoners’ chorus, Va Pensiero in Verdi’s Nabucco, for its intensity and its dynamic from pianissimo to fortissimo.

At this point, Leonore finds Florestan in a dark dungeon, where he whispers her name and calls her his angel. She decides to confront Pizarro, who is determined to kill both husband and wife. Only the arrival of the Prime Minister Don Fernando, announced by trumpets, stops the evil murders and frees Florestan.

Among those who sent letters to Austria’s Emperor Francis II seeking his release were United States President George Washington, and the French scientist, military strategist and great republican leader Lazare Carnot, known as the “organizer of victory” against the oligarchy.

A note on the historical background:

The opera Fidelio was inspired by Lèonore ou l’amour conjugal (Leonore or marital love) by Jean-Nicolas Bouilly, who based himself on his own experience as prosecutor for the Tribunal of the French Revolution in Tours. According to historian Donald Phau (“Fidelio: Beethoven’s Celebration of the American Revolution,” in Campaigner magazine, August, 1978) the true story inspiring Beethoven’s Fidelio is that of Adrienne Lafayette, the wife of the Marquis de Lafayette, who had been a hero of the American Revolution.

Adrienne went into an Austrian prison in Olmuetz, to rescue her husband, who was held there in solitary confinement from 1792 to 1797. He had been imprisoned there by the Austrians as part of a secret arrangement between England, Austria and Prussia, on orders of British Prime Minister William Pitt (Pizarro). Adrienne arrived at Olmuetz in October 1795, and remained there, in the prison with her two daughters, until Lafayette was freed in September 1797, largely due to the international pressure catalyzed by Adrienne’s heroism.

Its importance for us today:

The Europe of the Congress of Vienna, of the British Empire and its tyrannical domination over continental Europe, is not so far removed from the Europe we have today, and the tyranny of the Troika (European Union, ECB and IMF) which holds all European countries hostage to its policies of austerity.

For us in the Schiller Institute, Beethoven’s Fidelio can be considered a metaphor of how the courage and determination of relatively few men and women all over the world can free Europe from the dictatorship of the Troika and lead it to a better world and a more just economic and social system.

Liliana Gorini