Skip to page content

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) spent more time writing the overture to Fidelio than Rossini and Donizetti spent on an entire opera, overture included. But then Beethoven did write a total of four overtures to his only opera, which itself underwent numerous revisions.

To make a potentially interminable story short: Beethoven was dissatisfied with the first two versions of the overture, today referred to as "Leonore" - after the opera's protagonist, a woman who, disguised as a man, Fidelio, rescues her husband from political imprisonment.

"Leonore" No. 1 was rejected by the composer as being too slight, No. 2 as possessing the right ideas but too roughly worked out. No. 3, the grandest of them all, was rejected for that very reason, it was too large, of almost symphonic proportions and therefore ill-suited to serving as the preface to anything.

So Beethoven started from scratch and produced this compact, energetic curtain-raiser which, unlike its three predecessors, avoids any allusion to themes from the opera proper.

Its first performance - as part of the final version of the opera - took place in May of 1826 at Vienna's Kärtnertor Theater.

-- Herbert Glass