The French theatrical origins of 'Fidelio'

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Presents a detailed contextual, dramaturgical and musical survey of dramas of imprisonment and confinement preceding 'Léonore ou L'amour conjugal' (text by Bouilly, music by Gaveaux, 1798). This opera with spoken dialogue was translated into German and became (through various stages) 'Fidelio'. The ingredients behind the particular power evinced in Bouilly's 'Léonore' had developed over some years. Bouilly's earlier experiences as a dramatist and lawyer are included. Operas with spoken dialogue depicting imprisonment go back to the 1760s, especially Sedaine's 'Le Déserteur', Act II, but lesser-known works were equally strongly imagined, such as 'Le Comte d'Albert' (Grétry) and 'Raoul, Sire de Créqui' (Dalayrac). Connections between Revolutionary events and the staged depiction of imprisonment are examined: 'Le Cachot de Beauvais' and 'Cange'. Bouilly was to claim that real events lay behind his drama. Finally, the political position of Bouilly's 'Léonore' is clarified: it was part of the repertory of anti-Revolutionary stage works at the Théâtre Feydeau. Florestan would have been seen as a hero of the Right; Pizarre (in coded terms, referred to as a 'tyran' or 'monstre') would have been seen as a follower of Robespierre. But Bouilly omitted explicit allegory: instead he intensified the aspect of sheer cruelty, which took earlier depictions of prisoners in opera to new heights of repugnance.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationLudwig van Beethoven: 'Fidelio'
EditorsPaul Robinson
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherCambridge University Press
Pages51-67, 170-72
Number of pages20
ISBN (Print)052145852
Publication statusPublished - 1996

Publication series

NameCambridge Opera Handbooks
PublisherCambridge University Press


  • French Revolution, opera, Bouilly, imprisonment, musical metaphor

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