View Full Version : The Historic Couple Who (May Have) Inspired Four Operas

July 1st, 2012, 02:07 PM
In July, Americans will celebrate Independence Day (4th) and the French, Bastille Day (14th). So this may be a particularly suitable time to take a closer look at four operas – and two plays – that were likely inspired by actual events in the life of a man who served heroically in both revolutions.

Or, more specifically, events in the lives of this man and his wife.

The Inspiration

Adrienne, Marquise de Lafayette – the “real” Leonore?

Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, had married Marie Adrienne Françoise de Noailles, daughter of the Duc de Noailles, in April, 1774, just three years before he left Europe to fight in the American Revolution. Although theirs was an arranged marriage, Gilbert and Adrienne – to judge from his letters to her – had a deeply affectionate, loving relationship. Together, they had five children, four of whom survived.

In America, Lafayette became close friends with his commanding officer, George Washington, who was both mentor and a sort of father figure to the young Frenchman, who had been orphaned at an early age. In fact, Gilbert and Adrienne would name their third child and only son Georges Washington Louis Gilbert.

Marquis de Lafayette

After the victory at Yorktown, Lafayette returned to France, where he and his wife established a salon in their Paris townhouse. Their home became the headquarters for visiting American statesmen and a meeting place for France’s liberal aristocrats. Lafayette also joined the French abolitionist organization, Le Societe des Amis des Noirs, which advocated an end to the slave trade and equal rights for blacks.
In the years leading up to the French Revolution, Lafayette served as vice-president of the Estates-General (composed of representatives from the nobility, clergy, and commoners) and in this capacity, drafted the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen.” In addition, he was named commander-in-chief of the Garde nationale.

At the start of the revolution, Lafayette was allied with the moderate Constitutional Monarchist party. As more radical elements came to power, he and Adrienne found it necessary to leave Paris for his birthplace, Chavaniac, in October, 1791. By the following August, when he attempted to flee France for the United States via Germany and the Netherlands, he was captured by the Prussians and imprisoned for a time at Wesel and Magdeburg. He was later handed over to the Austrians, who imprisoned him in the fortress at Olmütz. Here, he was treated as a common prisoner, with all of his personal possessions taken from him. He was also denied the right to send or receive letters.

During this time, the Marquise was placed under house arrest at Chavaniac, and during the Reign of Terror, was actually imprisoned herself for about eight months. In July, 1794, her mother, grandmother, and sister were guillotined. She was spared the same fate and was finally released in January, 1795, after American officials placed pressure on the Revolutionary government (Lafayette and his family had been given citizenship by several American states).

While under house arrest, Adrienne had worked tirelessly to secure her husband’s freedom. Having been released from captivity and provided with American passports for herself and her family by Gouverneur Morris, she and two of her daughters, Anastasie and Virginie, traveled to Vienna in October, 1795, in another attempt to obtain her husband’s release. She met with the Emperor, who refused to release the Marquis, but did allow Adrienne and her daughters to join him at the Olmütz prison. Upon their arrival at the fortress, their luggage and money were confiscated.

Word that Lafayette’s wife and two daughters had joined him in captivity soon spread, and their fate became a cause célèbre. A play written about them, titled “The Prisoners of Olmütz, or Conjugal Devotion,” enjoyed great popularity. International pressure for their release increased. Finally, on 19 September 1797, after Adrienne had spent close to two years sharing her husband’s imprisonment, they were freed under the terms of the Treaty of Campo Formio, arranged after Napoleon’s conquest of Austria.

Which brings us to the following year (1798), and two men: Jean Nicolas Bouilly, politician, playwright, and librettist; and Pierre Gaveaux, a tenor with the Théâtre Monsieur at the Tuileries Palace and later with the Théâtre Feydeau, who created the roles of Floresky in Cherubini’s Lodoïska and Jason in the same composer’s Medée. In 1892, Gaveaux composed L’amour filial, the first of 35 operas he would write over the next 26 years. The sixteenth of those operas, composed in 1798, was Leonore, ou l’amour conjugal (Leonore, or Conjugal Love). At the work’s premiere performance at the Théâtre Feydeau, Julie-Angelique Scio sang the title role while Gaveaux himself sang that of the imprisoned hero, Florestan.

Sources differ on the opera’s origins – whether Gaveaux used the 1798 play by Bouilly, titled Leonor, as the basis for his opera’s libretto, or whether the two men collaborated from the beginning, with Bouilly as Gaveaux’s librettist. Bouilly claimed in one of his letters to have based his story on “ . . . a sublime deed of heroism and devotion by one of the ladies of the Touraine, whose noble efforts I had the happiness of assisting.” He set his version in 16th century Spain supposedly to avoid the possibility that officials in Tours would recognize any of the characters. (A curious explanation; had such an incident as that dramatized in his play or libretto actually occurred, authorities in Tours would very likely have recalled both it and the persons involved.) The closest one comes to real events in Bouilly’s life involved a friend of his, a woman married to a much older man who rejected the attempts of a Paris police agent – who happened to owe her husband money – to seduce her. In retaliation, the agent denounced the couple as royalists to authorities in Tours in the hope that both would be executed, a fate which Bouilly was able to prevent. But rebuffing a police agent’s advances is a long way from the deeds of the fictitious Leonore. And Bouilly’s own ward later mentioned that the playwright had a very fertile imagination, as well as an inclination to confuse events conjured in that vivid imagination with reality.

A different explanation for the actual source of Bouilly’s material is offered by the historian Donald Pfau, in his 1978 article, “Fidelio: Beethoven’s Celebration of the American Revolution.” Specifically, Pfau expressed his belief that the real-life models for the characters of Leonore and Florestan were none other than Adrienne and Gilbert du Motier. According to Pfau, the Marquis de Lafayette was imprisoned at Olmütz because of a secret agreement between Great Britain, Prussia, and Austria, and on orders from the British Prime Minister, William Pitt, who had no love for the young Frenchman as a result of that earlier business in North America. In this version of events, the phonetic similarities between “Pitt” and Bouilly’s corrupt prison governor, “Pizarro,” (or Pizare, in the French text) were intentional.

Whether or not one buys into the secret conspiracy theory, a few circumstances surrounding the Lafayettes’ imprisonment tend to bolster the belief that they were, in fact, the inspiration for Bouilly’s (and subsequently Gauveaux’s, Ferdinando Paer’s, Giovanni Simone Mayr’s, and Beethoven’s) protagonists. The similarities between the subtitles of the play, “The Prisoners of Olmütz or Conjugal Devotion,” and “Leonore or Conjugal Love” may be more than coincidence. There is also the curious statement made by the Austrian Emperor to Adrienne – which she recorded in a letter to the Comtesse de Tesse – when he gave permission for her to join her husband at Olmütz but denied her request to release him: “I grant it to you, but as for his liberty, that would be impossible – my hands are tied; it is a complicated affair.” That remark suggests that the Austrians may not have been acting alone in detaining Lafayette. Finally, it’s worth noting that the Marquis was joined by his wife and daughters for the final two years of his incarceration at Olmütz – the same period of time (“zwei Jahre”) that Florestan has been kept in chains by Pizarro.

The Operas

Unfortunately, no commercial recordings have been made of Gaveaux’s Leonore, so it’s difficult to compare this work with the three other operas that used Bouilly’s text as the basis for the libretto. What we do know about Gaveaux’s version is that it was written as an opera-comique, with spoken dialogue instead of recitatives. In fact, the role of Pizare is entirely spoken. The “commoners” – i.e., the jailer, Roc, his daughter, Marceline, and her suiter, Jacquino – also speak in dialect. There is no chorus, and no grand tribute to Leonore’s self-sacrificing heroism at the opera’s conclusion. Instead, the minister, Don Fernand, addresses the audience, and particularly its feminine members, urging them to take Leonore as their model and find their happiness in fidelity. But while Gaveaux’s opera enjoyed considerable popularity for several years, and its score was printed almost immediately, after 1806 it was largely forgotten.

In 1803, Ferdinando Paër began work on his version of Bouilly’s drama, with an Italian translation by Giovanni Schmidt titled Leonora ossia l’Amor Coniugale. A prolific composer who wrote 55 operas, Paër had served as music director at Vienna’s Kärtnertheater, a post he held until 1801, before being appointed the following year as composer at the court theater in Dresden. In 1804, the Elector appointed him to a lifetime position as Hofkapellmeister (conductor of the court orchestra). It was in this year, at this theater, that his Leonora was premiered. Perhaps this opera was written as a tribute to a beloved spouse, since the soprano singing the title role was Francesca Riccardi-Paër, the composer’s wife.

Of the three operas beside Fidelio that used a version of Bouilly’s text as the libretto, Leonora has been the most popular – “popular,” of course, being a relative term. It still ranks as a rarity, but has been performed several times in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. It was championed by the Swiss conductor Peter Maag in the 1970s, who first led a performance at Schwetzingen in 1976 that was recorded live by the small MRF label. This recording is no longer available; however, the studio version released by Decca two years later can still be obtained from Amazon – assuming one has a turntable upon which to play the LPs, since Decca never issued this recording on CD. The cast is noteworthy for featuring some well-known singers at the beginning of their careers: Siegfried Jerusalem as Florestano, Edita Gruberova as Marcellina, Norbert Orth as Pizzarro (the spelling used in Paër’s opera), and Wolfgang Brendel as Giacchino. The title role is sung by Urszula Koszut, and while her lyric soprano has an attractive quality, it’s really a little underpowered for the demands of Paër’s writing.

In November, 2000, the Zürich Opera staged a production of Leonora at its “branch” theater in Winterthur, with the Romanian soprano Iulia Isaev as Leonora. Florestano was sung by a 31 year-old newcomer to Zürich named Jonas Kaufmann.

Jonas Kaufmann as Florestano in Winterthur

As recently as 2008, the Bampton Opera presented Paër’s work in an English translation, with Cara McHardy and Michael Bracegirdle as the protagonists.

In his introduction to the opera that is included with the libretto that accompanied the Decca recording, Maag noted that it was Beethoven’s own enthusiastic comments about Paër that prompted him to track down information on the Italian composer and his operas. Beethoven and Paër were acquaintances, and Maag found in the latter’s score “an almost disturbing resemblance” to Fidelio, adding, “I am absolutely convinced that Beethoven knew Paër’s work well.” Maag’s observation is echoed by Jonas Kaufmann in a Feb., 2008, interview he gave to “Klassikakzent.” Asked about composers or works that he believed to be currently overrated or underappreciated, the tenor responded, “Ferdinando Paër. He wrote the original* Leonore long before Ludwig von Beethoven, who appropriated some of it.” (English translation mine.)
* Well, not quite. That, of course, would have been Gaveaux.

Maag further wrote: “When I came to study the score, Leonora surpassed all my expectations; here was an inspired, imaginative work, technically worthy of the highest praise.” And later, “How well Beethoven may have known Paër’s work is a question for the musicologists. It is certainly an interesting point, but not the most significant one. The highest significance is in the fact of the opera itself because of its emotive power, and once one has overcome one’s amazement at the fascinating parallels between the two operas, Paër’s opera, with its eminent sense of drama and intensity of passion, commands one’s admiration.”

There are, indeed, some significant similarities between Leonora and Fidelio, especially the latter’s 1805 original version, to which Beethoven wanted to give the title Leonore, but was required by the management at the Theater an der Wien to change it in order to avoid confusion with Paër’s opera. And there are also some major differences.

The action in Leonora generally follows that in Fidelio, again particularly the 1805 version. In Paër’s opera and the original of Beethoven’s, the confrontation in the dungeon between Leonora and Piz(z)arro ends with Rocco seizing the pistol from Leonora – out of concern that, in despair, she might use it on herself and her husband (or so he tells Don Fernando a little later). She faints, and then is revived by the sound of Florestan(o) calling her name. Fearing the worst, the two resolve to die together before Don Fernando, accompanied by the others, enters the dungeon. The operas both conclude with Leonora unlocking her husband’s chains and Don Fernando ordering Piz(z)aro’s punishment, with general rejoicing following.

There are noticeable similarities between the arias Paër and Beethoven wrote for the two protagonists; the roles of Leonora/e and Florestan/o are even written for the same voice types (again, particularly in Beethoven’s original). She is a dramatic coloratura; he is a lyric spinto (a “heroic Don Ottavio,” as one reviewer described Florestano). The recitative that precedes Leonora’s Act I aria begins with an outburst against the prison governor, “Esecrabil Pizzarro! dove vai?,” mirroring Leonore’s “Abscheulicher! Wo eilst du hin?” in Fidelio’s final 1814 revision. This is actually one of the few instances where Paër’s opera is closer to Beethoven’s final version instead of the original. In 1805, Beethoven has his heroine struggling to keep up her spirits – “O brich noch nicht, du mattes Herz” – before summoning her resolve with the familiar aria, “Komm, Hoffnung.” In Leonora’s counterpart to “Komm, Hoffnung,” the text is entirely different from Beethoven’s libretto, yet both express the heroine’s determination to find her husband and rescue him. Paër completes the aria with a coloratura flourish that is echoed in Leonore’s extremely difficult 1805 aria (the conclusion of which can be heard on a YouTube link near the end of this article).

Likewise, Florestano’s opening cry of despair, “Ciel, che profondo oscurità tiranna!” finds its counterpart in Florestan’s “Gott, welch’ Dunkel hier!” But while Beethoven’s hero then laments the fate to which his courageous deeds have brought him and comforts himself in the knowledge that he’s done his duty, all of Florestano’s thoughts are fixed on Leonora and his love for her. He imagines her being consoled by the thought that he has died faithful to her. On Jonas Kaufmann’s unofficial web site, we can listen to an MP3 file with the tenor singing this aria (“Dolce oggetto del mio amore”):

Otherwise, a listener who knows Fidelio will recognize many familiar scenes in Leonora: Marcellina’s longing for Fedele (i.e., Fidelio); her sparring with Giacchino that’s interrupted by knocking at the prison door; Pizzarro’s receipt of the mysterious message warning him of the minister’s pending inspection and his subsequent plotting to kill Florestano; Leonora and Rocco digging the grave in the collapsed cistern, with her vow to free the prisoner “whoever you may be;” her recognition of her husband; Leonora giving Florestano a drink of wine and the little piece of bread she’s been carrying, followed by his outpouring of gratitude; Rocco giving the signal to Pizzarro; and Leonora reassuring the prisoner with her avowal that “Yes, there is a Providence.” And, of course, the famous confrontation, with Leonora’s revelation of her true identity.

But there are some key differences between the two operas, as well. While Beethoven follows the more common practice of assigning a deeper voice (baritone or bass-baritone) to his villain and a light lyric tenor to the youth Jaquino, Paër uses social class to determine voice assignments for his male characters. The aristocrats – Florestano, Pizzarro, and Fernando – are all tenors, whereas the working class Rocco and Giacchino are sung by a bass and baritone, respectively. Also, the parts of Marcellina and Giacchino are considerably larger than their counterparts in Fidelio. And there is that unfortunate scene in Act II, immediately following the departure of Rocco and Pizzarro from the dungeon to greet the arriving Don Fernando, when the reunion of Leonora and Florestano is interrupted by the appearance of Marcellina (who has swiped the key from daddy), simpering and trying to extract additional professions of love from Fedele while Leonora desperately tries to persuade the silly girl to GO FETCH THE MINISTER! The effect is jarring after the dramatic tension built up by the confrontation, and Beethoven’s librettists wisely never included it. (Without a recording or libretto of Gaveaux’s opera available, I’m unable to determine if this scene has its origins in Bouilly’s text.)

Paër’s opera, like Gaveaux’s and unlike Beethoven’s, has no chorus. In Paër’s version, the Act II address to the ladies in the audience (“Voi che al zelo di Leonora, saggie donne, or plauso fate”) is delivered by Florestano, not Don Fernando. Leonora gets in on the act, as well, adding that virtue’s path can be bitter for all its beauty, but no one can be happy without a little effort. Finally, both Gaveaux’s and Paër’s operas are focused primarily on the personal theme of marital love; only Beethoven uses this story to address the larger issue of political liberty, as well. Finally, as a drama semiseria, Leonora – unlike either Gaveaux’s or Beethoven’s operas – has recitatives in place of dialogue.

Before we move on to another opera based on Bouilly’s drama that was premiered in 1805 – and was not the original Fidelio – we can listen to Edita Gruberova singing Marcellina’s aria, “Fedele, mio diletto.”


Johann Simon Mayr was born and educated in Bavaria, but at the age of 39, moved to Bergamo, where he succeeded his teacher, Carlo Lenzi, as maestro di cappella at the Bergamo cathedral, a post he held for the remainder of his life. He adopted the Italian version of his given names, Giovanni Simone. He was an even more prolific composer than Paër, penning around 70 operas, but it isn’t for his own operas that he’s chiefly remembered – Mayr’s main claim to fame is through his pupil, Donizetti.

His version of Bouilly’s drama, titled L’Amor Coniugale (Conjugal Love) or Il custode di buon cuore (The Good-Hearted Jailer), is markedly different from the others. His librettist, Gaetano Rossi, reduced the text to a single act, dropping the character of Jacquino in the process. In addition, Rossi and Mayr followed a popular trend and transferred the action from 16th century Spain to 17th century Poland, all things Polish being in vogue at this time. (Poland is the setting for Lodoïska, another “rescue” opera set to music by Mayr, Cherubini, and Paër.) The heroine is now named Zeliska, and disguises herself as the youth, Malvino, when she enters the employ of the jailer, Peters, whose daughter is called Floreska. Zeliska’s husband is named Amorveno, and his enemy, the prisoner governor, is dubbed Moroski. And this is where Rossi and Mayr really depart from the script the others have followed. Moroski has tossed Amorveno in prison not from political enmity but because he has romantic designs on Zeliska. And the Don Fernando character here is Ardelao, who happens to be Amorveno’s brother. Again, there is no chorus. Mayr’s opera, described as a farsa sentimentale, premiered on 26 July 1805 at Padua’s Teatro Novo, with Margherita Chabrand as Zeliska and Saverio Monelli as Amorveno – several months before the premiere at the Theater an der Wien of Fidelio.

The action in L’Amor Coniugale very generally follows that in Leonora and Fidelio, allowing for Rossi’s considerable editing. Floreska has two arias in the opening scene: in the first, the “spinning song,” she’s eagerly awaiting Malvino’s arrival; in the second, her principal objective appears to be wrapping daddy around her little finger. In this first scene, we also learn that Amorveno, unlike Florestan, has only been imprisoned for one year. In Fidelio, Rocco’s ode to gold is given as practical advice to his daughter and prospective son-in-law, whereas Peters is trying to justify accepting Moroski’s money-for-murder (or at least being complicit in murder) to Malvino. (There is no corresponding aria in Paër’s opera.) The first scene ends with Zeliska’s big aria, in which she expresses her determination to rescue her husband. Though her preceding recitative refers to “Empio Moroski, vile persecutor d’una famiglia oppressa,” her first utterance is not the blazing denunciation of her husband’s enemy that we hear from Leonora and the 1814 Leonore. Although the texts are not identical, Zeliska’s aria expresses much the same sentiments as does Paër’s Leonora: her conviction that the villain is responsible for her beloved husband’s disappearance, and her determination to find and free her spouse, no matter the risk.

The scene in the dungeon opens with a somber instrumental prelude, much as the corresponding scenes in Leonora and Fidelio. (The opening measures actually reminded me a little of the beginning of an aria Schubert would write almost 20 years later for the title character of his Fierrabras.) Amorveno, like Paër’s and Beethoven’s heroes, begins with a recitative that comments on the darkness and silence of his subterranean prison. His weakened condition also produces a hallucinatory vision of his wife – but not as the angel leading him to heaven’s freedom that Florestan imagines. Instead, Amorveno envisions Zeliska in distress, mourning the husband she believes to be dead. In his aria, he expresses his longing to comfort her, to take her in his arms and never to be parted from her again. It’s also worth noting that a portion of this aria features a solo violin accompaniment that sounds remarkably similar to that which Paér wrote for Florestano’s aria.

When Zeliska/Malvino and Peters enter the dungeon to begin digging the grave, the action at first proceeds much as it does in Fidelio and Leonora. But we are soon confronted with some notable differences again. It seems the jailer is fond of wine, and decides this is a good time to enjoy a little. He offers to share the contents of his bottle with Zeliska, who politely declines. He then asks “Malvino” to entertain him with a song. She obliges with a Romanza about an unhappy wife whose adored husband has been taken from her, prompting Peters to comment on the melancholy sentiment (obviously not the cheerful ditty he had in mind). But if the subject wasn’t exactly to Peters’s taste, the melody evidently appealed to Rossini. He “borrowed” it for Angelina’s song, “Una volta c’era un Re,”when he composed La Cenerentola.

After the Romanza, we’re back in more-or-less familiar territory again, and remain there through the conclusion of the opera (which follows the action in Leonora and the 1805 Fidelio). In this case, though, Moroski is foiled not only by the threat of Zeliska’s pistol, but the realization that he cannot kill the woman he loves. We also never see the moment at which Floreska discovers “Malvino”’s true identity; when she enters the dungeon along with the newly-arrived Ardelao and her father, she has evidently been enlightened, as she joins in the general rejoicing which follows Amorveno’s liberation. Moroski, who has been disarmed, is brought back to the dungeon just after Amorveno has been freed, whereupon he is denounced by the angry Ardelao, who orders his punishment. There is no address to the audience as in Gaveaux’s and Paër’s operas. Mayr quickly wraps things up with the protagonists, Peters, Floreska, and Ardelao singing the praises of conjugal love while Moroski laments his fate.

Supposedly, the censors required Mayr and Rossi to change the liberating deus-ex-machina figure from a government minister to the prisoner’s brother. Might they have also been responsible for the change in the villain’s motive to unrequited love for the hero’s wife? The result of both these changes is the complete elimination of any political overtones in the opera’s story.

The roles of both Zeliska and Floreska are written for lyric coloratura sopranos. The two brothers are tenors, Moroski a baritone or bass-baritone, and Peters a bass. Mayr’s music is attractive and an enjoyable listen (if not particularly memorable), often reminiscent of Rossini, but also at times of Mozart. A commercial recording, from the 2004 Rossini Festival in Wildbad, is available on the Naxos label.


There are no “names” among the cast members, who mostly sing their parts well. Cinzia Rizzone (Zeliska) and Tatjana Charalzina (Floreska) have appealing voices, with Rizzone’s a shade fuller as appropriate. There is even less difference in timbre between Francescantonio Bille (Amorveno) and Bradley Trammell (Ardelao). Bille has a very light, Rossinian tenore di grazia, and he sings well enough. Both Dariusz Machej (Peters) and Giovanni Bellavia (Moroski) are fine in their respective roles.

This opera was also performed in 1984 at Bergamo’s Teatro Donizetti, with Bruno Moretti conducting.

Unlike the other three operas based on Bouilly’s text, the 1805 original version of Fidelio is occasionally performed at opera houses and festivals, and several recordings of it have been made. The most complete of these is the 1977 recording conducted by Herbert Blomstedt in which the dialogue is included. Edda Moser sings Leonore, with Richard Cassilly as Florestan, Theo Adam as Pizarro, Karl Ridderbusch as Rocco, Helen Donath as Marzelline, and Eberhard Büchner as Jaquino. Singing the First Prisoner is Reiner Goldberg, at the beginning of his career.


A live recording from the 1960 Bregenz Festival, with Ferdinand Leitner conducting and Hilde Zadek, Anton Dermota, Paul Schöffler, and Otto von Rohr in the leading roles, has no dialogue and some cuts in the third act.


The dialogue is also missing from the 1997 studio recording conducted by John Eliot Gardiner, and replaced with an actor reading excerpts from works by Goethe, Wordsworth, and Holderlin. Otherwise, the recording is noteworthy for including the original D-major march that Beethoven wrote for Pizarro’s entry (the Blomstedt and Leitner performances use the later version we hear in the final 1814 Fidelio). The cast includes Hillevi Martinpelto, Kim Begley, Matthew Best, Franz Hawlata, Christiane Oelze, Michael Schade, and Alastair Miles.


The most recent recording stems from a live performance at the Theater an der Wien in 2005, with Bertrand de Billy on the podium. Like Gardiner’s version, this one includes the D-Major march and elects to replace the dialogue with different material – in this case, excerpts from Walter Jens’ “Roccos Erzählung” (“Rocco’s Story”). Camilla Nylund and Kurt Streit are the spouses, with Gerd Grochowski as Pizarro, Peter Rose as Rocco, and Brigitte Geller as Marzelline.


There is even a recording of Beethoven’s first revision to the opera, made in 1806. Unlike Gaveaux’s and Paër’s operas, which had two acts, Beethoven’s first Fidelio was divided into three acts, with Pizarro’s arrival marking the beginning of the second act, and Florestan appearing for the first time at the opening of the third act. In his first revision, Beethoven reverted to the two-act format used by Gaveaux and Paër. This recording is conducted by Marc Soustrot, with Pamela Coburn and Mark Baker as Leonore and Florestan. The dialogue has been restored.


For those who are unfamiliar with the original version of Fidelio, I’ve noted its primary differences with the 1814 final below:

- While nearly all of the music contains at least a few minor changes from the final version, some of the more notable changes are to Leonore and Florestan’s arias (as mentioned earlier for her aria). The ecstatic vision of the “angel like Leonore” is missing from Florestan’s original aria; instead, he simply recalls their happy days together and expresses the hope that she will be comforted by the knowledge that he has acted rightly (“Florestan hat Recht getan”).

- As discussed earlier, the conclusion of the dungeon scene in the 1805 Fidelio follows the same action as in Paër’s opera -- Rocco seizes Leonore’s pistol before exiting the dungeon, whereupon she faints, and then is revived by Florestan calling to her. Beginning with Florestan’s astonished comment that he can hardly grasp what has happened (“Ich kann mich noch nicht fassen”), this recitative leads up to the familiar “O namenlose Freude.” The latter is also changed somewhat from the 1814 version to which we’re accustomed. It is longer, and the couple sings the phrase “O namenlose Freude” in unison. And the music, especially for Leonore, often lies higher than in the 1814 final version.

- Likewise, Leonore’s famous phrase, “Töt’ erst sein Weib,” is sung at a much higher pitch in the 1805 original opera, as is her warning to Pizarro, “Noch einen Laut, und du bist tot.” The mezzos who successfully sang the final version of this role would have been hard pressed to cope with its original range. (In fact, Beethoven had the same soprano, Anna Milder Hauptmann, as his Leonore for the premieres of his opera in its 1805, 1806, and 1814 versions.)

- The endings of the second (later first) and third (later second) acts are completely different in the 1805 version. Near the conclusion of the second act, Rocco orders the prisoners back to their cells before Leonore returns to question him about his discussion with Pizarro (“Nun sprecht, wie ging’s?”). After Marzelline arrives to warn her father that Pizarro is headed their way, furious about the release of the prisoners (Jaquino is not present), we do not hear the Rocco-Pizarro-Leonore-Marzelline quartet that ends the first act of the 1814 Fidelio. Instead, there is a recitative and aria with chorus for Pizarro (“Auf euch nur will Ich bauen . . . Jetzt eilet auf die Zinnen”). In the finale to the third act, Florestan’s “Wer ein solches Weib errungen,” is not followed by Leonore’s corresponding “Liebend wird es mir gelungen.” And the music for the final chorus, “Nie wird es zu hoch besungen,” is entirely different from that in the 1814 version.

- A trio for Rocco, Marzelline, and Jaquino (“Ein Mann ist bald genommen”) and a duet for Marzelline and Leonore (“Um froh im Ehestand zu leben”) were completely dropped by Beethoven when he revised the score in 1806.

- In the first act, the overture is followed by Marzelline’s aria, which precedes her duet with Jaquino.

- The 1805 version also contains the previously-mentioned D-Major march for Pizarro; and an extended version of “O Gott, o welch’ ein Augenblick” in which the six soloists’ voice weave among themselves and the chorus to form the melodic line.

- There was a different text for Rocco’s “gold” aria in 1805 – one that, interestingly, contains much more biting social commentary than the tamer 1814 lyrics. Here’s a sample:

“Drum ist auch Fortuna dem Reichen so hold;
Sie tuen ja nur was sie wollen.
Verhüllen die Handlungen künstlich mit Gold
Vorüber sie schämen sich sollen.”

“That’s why Fortune is also fair to the rich;
They simply do what they wish.
Artfully cover up their dealings with gold,
For which they should be ashamed.”
(English translation mine)

To hear excerpts from the 1805 Fidelio, you can listen to this video. (Unfortunately, these fragments of music have not been included in the order in which they are heard in the opera.)


The woman who may have inspired the story of the courageous wife who risks all to secure her husband’s liberty died a number of years before her spouse. The Marquise de Lafayette experienced chronic illness after her imprisonment, with everything from stomach pains to abscesses. In 1807, she became seriously ill during a visit to the Auvergne, and by Christmas Eve of that year, was dying. Her family members were gathered around her bed; her last words to her beloved Gilbert were “Je suis toute à vous.” (“I am all yours.”)

Surely Beethoven would have approved.

July 2nd, 2012, 05:51 PM
Thanks for the posts.

Mayr and Paër's operas are mildly interesting.

April 27th, 2013, 05:56 PM
Just in case there is any interest, Decca has now reissued the recording of Paër's Leonora in CD format on its Eloquence label.


March 9th, 2014, 10:31 PM
I have this recording. I had it previously had it on a Decca LP set, long gone. 'Leonore' is a fine opera and definitely worth the small outlay for Eloquence CDs.

November 26th, 2017, 06:05 AM
Thanks Mauer for such an informative post. I have been listening to my Leonores and I have all of them but for the "Fidelio 1805" de Billy set, which I am reluctant to purchase given the current pricing and the strange inserted texts instead of the dialog.

I also have come to believe there is no reason for having the 1806 set (even though I do) as anything it the 1806 is covered in either the 1805 or 1814 sets. Would that really be the case?

Also, the Gardiner set booklet notes his recording's deviations from the 1805 including a deviation to the "premiere version (1804). What is this about an 1804 version?

November 26th, 2017, 01:09 PM
I'm as puzzled by Gardiner's comment about an 1804 "premiere version" as you are. Leonore was definitely performed for the first time in 1805. It was Paer's opera that premiered the previous year.
Speaking of Paer's opera, I've since discovered another interesting link between it and Fidelio. Beethoven's hand-picked tenor to sing Florestan at the premiere of the 1814 final version of his opera was Giulio (Julius) Radicki, who apparently impressed Beethoven when he sang Florestano in Leonora.