I went to see a concert version of Fidelio at the Norwegian National Opera last night. For those of you who aren’t well versed in opera or in the classical or romantic eras of Western music, Fidelio is Beethoven‘s only opera; initially written in 1804 under the title Leonore, oder Der Triumph der ehelichen Liebe, it took ten years and numerous rewrites before it became what we know today as Fidelio. I know Fidelio quite well, having owned a copy of Karajan’s 1970 recording since my teens, but never really paid attention to the lyrics as a whole until I saw it on stage. I was mildly surprised at how progressive and (in places) possibly even scandalous they are, for their time. They deserve wider recognition. So without further ado, I present my abridged and somewhat… improved version of the libretto.
Two years ago, Florestan uncovered evidence of his rival Pizarro’s crimes. Since then, he has been illegally detained by the latter in the prison he governs. Florestan’s wife Leonore has tracked Florestan down and obtained employment at the prison, disguised as a young man named Fidelio (because opera, that’s why). She has gradually gained warden Rocco’s trust. Prison guard Jaquino is infatuated with Rocco’s daughter Marzelline, who is infatuated with Fidelio (because opera, that’s why).
Jaquino: Finally got you cornered! I need to talk to you.
Marzelline: Dude, I got work to do.
Jaquino: Come on, give a guy a break!
Marzelline: OK, spit it out. Just don’t expect me to like it.
Jaquino: I’ve decided that you are to be my wife. We can have the wedding in a few weeks.
Marzelline: LOL WUT
Jaquino: PISS OFF I’M TRYING TO PROPOSE HERE
Marzelline: Dude, I don’t even like you. I’m in love with Fidelio.
Jaquino: What can I do to convince you?
Marzelline: Good, maybe he’ll let me go now.
Rocco (off-stage): Jaquino, you lazy good-for-nothing, get back to work!
Marzelline: You heard the man, now scram!
Marzelline: Poor guy. I used to like him until I met Fidelio. Now there’s a man in touch with his feminine side!
Marzelline pines for Fidelio
Rocco: Where the f— is Fidelio?
Marzelline: Hell if I know. Oh, wait, there he is!
Fidelionore: Sorry, boss. Dude took forever. Here’s the receipt.
Rocco: Wow, how’d you talk the price down so much?
Fidelionore: I try my best, boss.
Rocco: Good man. Don’t worry, you’ll get what you’re after.
Fidelionore: Say what now?
Rocco: Oh come on, I know you like Marzelline.
Marzelline: OMG OMG OMG FIDELIO LIKES ME OMG!
Fidelionore: Oh shit.
Rocco: I’m so happy for them!
Jaquino: Oh shit.
Rocco: Good, then it’s settled! We can have the wedding as soon as that ass Pizarro leaves for Sevilla.
Rocco: One thing though, Fidelio. Promise me you’ll provide for my daughter. Love means nothing if you can’t put food on the table. Gold, gold, gold, gold, gold, gold, gold!
Fidelionore: Well, I still maintain that true love… but there’s one thing that bothers me. Why don’t you trust me to accompany you down to the lower cells?
Rocco: It’s not that I don’t trust you, it’s that I’m not allowed to let anyone near them.
Fidelionore: But you work your fingers to the bone! Let me help.
Rocco: Well, maybe. But I won’t let you near the oubliette. It’s too gruesome.
Marzelline: Is that where the secret prisoner is kept?
Fidelionore: Has he been there long?
Rocco: Two years. And now Pizarro has ordered me to let him starve in the dark.
Marzelline: Please don’t take Fidelio there, it’ll break his heart!
Fidelionore: Are you calling me a wuss?
Rocco: You need guts to get ahead in life, boy.
Fidelionore: I got plenty. Try me.
Marzelline: Your determination to see a man being starved to death makes me inexplicably proud.
Rocco: Fine! I’ll ask the governor to allow you to assist me. I’m working myself to death as it is.
Marzelline: I am so turned on right now.
Pizarro storms in from who knows where
Pizarro: Man the walls! Let no-one in without my express permission. Rocco, bring me my mail!
Rocco: Here, sir.
Pizarro: Bill—bill—advertising—overdue bill—Sears catalogue—final notice—pre-approved credit card—oh shit, I know that letterhead. “It has come to my attention that you are illegally keeping political prisoners, and I am therefore conducting a surprise inspection. You have a few hours to hide the evidence. XOXO Fernando.” Holy shit, he and Florestan were like besties. Captain! Post guards and sound the alarm the moment you see Secretary Fernando’s limo arrive!
Captain: Sir, yes, sir!
Pizarro: The only thing that can save me now is an act of unsurpassed bravery. And I will finally have my revenge, which I could have had at any time in the two years this man has been my prisoner, but inexplicably postponed! Oh, I can’t wait to see the knife twist in his heart! Rocco!
Pizarro: Rocco, I want you to prove my bravery, courage and high moral conviction by murdering this man in my place.
Rocco: Let’s not, and say we did.
Pizarro: Wuss. Never mind, I’ll do it myself. Go dig his grave while I put on an unconvincing disguise so I can tell myself it wasn’t really me who did it. And God help you if I get blood on my shoes!
Rocco: Oh well. At least he won’t starve any more.
Fidelionore: WHAT THE F— JUST HAPPENED? I have to stop this.
Jaquino: Marzelline! You used to love me, but ever since this Fidelio…
Marzelline: Leave me alone!
Rocco: Let it go, son. She doesn’t want you.
Fidelionore: Rocco, won’t you please let the prisoners out into the sun? Pizarro doesn’t need to know.
Rocco: Oh, why the hell not. Jaquino, Fidelio, open the upper cells!
Prisoners: Watch as we march dramatically out of our cells and sing a heart-wrenching chorus about how bad it is to imprison people for their political opinions! But not too loud, someone might hear us.
Fidelionore: How did it go?
Rocco: He agreed to the wedding and to let you accompany me to the lower cells.
Fidelionore: O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!
Rocco: What are you going on about? Anyway, we have to go down to the secret prisoner.
Fidelionore: Is he being released?
Rocco: Released? Oh, no, we are to bury him.
Fidelionore: What?! He’s dead?
Rocco: Well, not quite yet…
Fidelionore: YOU’RE GOING TO KILL HIM?
Rocco: No, just dig his grave and wash my hands of his murder.
Fidelionore starts crying
Rocco: Oh, grow up. Let’s go.
Marzelline: Dad! Dad! Pizarro is looking for you, and let me tell you, he is PISSED. The guard captain told him we let the prisoners out. You know how mad he gets…
Rocco: Oh shit. Quick, get everybody back inside.
Pizarro: Rocco! ROCCO! Who the FRACK gave you permission to let the prisoners out?
Rocco: Well, uh, it’s, uh, spring, and also the King’s birthday or something? Also, I only let the regular prisoners out, not the secret one.
Pizarro: Oh, shut up, and go dig that grave.
Prisoners: We’re really sad to have to go back inside.
Marzelline: I’m really sad to see the prisoners go back inside.
Fidelionore: I’m really sad to see the prisoners go back inside.
Jaquino: Oh, screw them.
Pizarro: Off you go, Rocco, and stay there until the deed is done.
End of Act One
I’ll post Act Two as soon as that ass Pizarro leaves for Sevilla.
Update: Act Two