Friday, June 19, 2015

Reading List: Fidelio, the novel

It is a matter of record that I have a particular enthusiasm for Beethoven's Fidelio. I love the orchestration, and how it changes color to reflect the different worlds of the domestic interior subtly infected by the violence and fear of the prison; of the prison garden that is both foretaste and mockery of freedom; of the cold and claustrophobic dungeon where is kept a man who has become a secret. The contrast between the episodic nature of the first act and the concentrated momentum of the second is something I see as dramatic strength, rather than weakness. And although its production history has often been tied up with glorification of a Victorian ideal of domesticity (sigh,) to say nothing of a truly dizzying variety of political regimes, I see it as something far more radical. As has been frequently observed, Don Fernando, the minister who steps in at the end to restore justice, is not a fully-rounded character. Perhaps he can't be, but he is the embodiment of the possibility of justice being restored... a possibility I want to believe in as passionately as Beethoven did. (And when he is sung by Peter Mattei, that voice is all the character I need.) Also, I think it is worth noting that Florestan's jubilant, ecstatic praise of his wife is not a paean to conventional domestic felicity. This is a cry uttered when Leonore has been rendered unrecognizable to Don Fernando, her social acquaintance and equal, by her disguise as a man, and rendered strange to Rocco and her associates of the prison by their disclosure of her identity. And Florestan proclaims that such a wife as this woman, who transgresses class boundaries and violates gender norms without hesitation, is most worthy of praise... and utterly adored.

My enthusiasm for the opera being thus established, it should perhaps not surprise you, Gentle Readers, that I was delighted to learn of a fellow enthusiast penning a Fidelio-inspired novel. Christie found my blog, we enthused about Fidelio... it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. In the years since, I've had the privilege of reading several versions of the novel, in which the rich past histories hinted at by the stage work are explored, characters developed... and, as astute opera-lovers may note, several iconic productions alluded to. Starting this week, Christie is making the finished work freely available in installments here. I hereby heartily recommend it.


  1. What a fascinating idea! I'll certainly check out Christie's opus (and subscribe to your delightfully written blog, too!).

    1. Thank you! It's always nice to have more voices in the comments. :)


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