Beethoven’s Fidelio: a complete guide to the best recordings

Both before and after the three differing versions (1805, 1806 and 1814) of Fidelio he tried out, Beethoven practised writing opera in extenso, taking lessons from Salieri (although fiercely rejecting his criticism of the eventual product) and starting a first full-scale opera, Vestas Feuer, in collaboration with Die Zauberflöte librettist Emanuel Schikaneder. But, dismayed to discover from the latter’s drafts that ‘Rome’s holy vestal virgins spoke with the tongues of contemporary Viennese shopgirls’, Beethoven took refuge in the winter of 1803/04 in J‑N Bouilly’s Léonore, ou L’amour conjugal. Written for one of the Paris companies of the Revolution period, the Théâtre Feydeau – whose repertoire of, literally, ‘music-theatre’ demanded a new brand of actor and singer in one – it was


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