Musical highlights

Explore the musical moments to look out for in Fidelio

Highlight: O welche lust (Act I)

The Act I Prisoners’ Chorus ‘O welche lust’ is probably the most famous musical moment in Fidelio – a musical release of hope and delight in the bleakest and darkest of contexts.

Fidelio and his fellow prisoners have received rare permission to walk in the garden. They find joy in nature and trust in God to free them from imprisonment.

The chorus opens tentatively in the strings as light creeps musically into the darkness and we swap shadowy Bb for bright G major. One man starts the chorus then they all gradually join in. The chorus is repeated sotto voce (under their breath) when they realise that they are overheard, but this pianissimo repeat only adds to the passionate intensity of the music.

Highlight: O namenlose freude (Act II)

Realising that they are saved, Leonore and Florestan suddenly burst forth into the ecstatic closing duet ‘O namenlose freude’. Previously their music has been restrained and dignified, but here irrepressible passion seems to take over.

The G major key (the same as the Prisoners’ Chorus) gives the musical sense of the sun coming out from behind clouds. The two voices chase and echo one another in phrases that gallop widely across the singers’ vocal range, unable to contain their joy in one another. Their phrases often answer one another, dovetailing to create a perfect fit: a single musical whole.

Image credits: Underworld (An Escape) © Tom Hammick. All rights reserved, DACS 2021

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