‘Beethoven shaped the identity of what came to be known as classical music.’ (New Yorker‘s fascinating account of his musical influence.) But of all our opera composers, he was the least prolific and the most dissatisfied with his efforts at opera. His one completed opera was massively rewritten over a decade. Why only one? His own explanation: ‘I am well aware of the value of my Fidelio; I know just as well that the symphony is my real element. When sounds ring in me I always hear the full orchestra. I can ask anything of instrumentalists, but when writing for the voice I must continually ask myself: Can that be sung?’ (Classic-FM on the making of Fidelio) As his deafness developed, in 1803, he made a first attempt at opera – a libretto by Schikaneder, Mozart’s German librettist. Beethoven said the verses were “such as could only have proceeded from the mouths of our Viennese applewomen.” ‘ (Britannica). Leonore failed in 1805, and finally succeeded as Fidelio in 1814.            
To Berlioz it was a beech tree, "born amid rocks and ruins, … proud and verdant, all the more solidly implanted on account of the obstacles it had to overcome in order to emerge, wilst the willows that grow without any trouble upon the river bank fall into its bed and perish forgotten." 

The political context

For Beethoven, Napoleon at first was a champion for human rights, opposing the old aristocratic order. The Third Symphony (1804) was to have been dedicated to Napoleon. On learning Napoleon had taken the title of emperor, Beethoven renamed the symphony Eroica and added the words “for the memory of a great man”’. (Britannica again)  By 1805, Napoleon had invaded Austria. Leonore was a failure – well-off Viennese had left and the theatre filled with French troops. By 1814, the ‘white-hot emotion’ of Leonore was quietened.  (NPR) Leonore, says a revival director, is ‘more intimate, more human… It has more of the revolutionary spirit, or at least the sense of a new era dawning.’ (The Independent)
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
23rd June, Fidelio 30th June, Full performance of Fidelio off-site.