On today's date in 1805, Beethoven's opera, "Fidelio," had its premiere performance at the Theater an der Wien in Vienna. The premiere was to have taken place earlier, but there were the usual bureaucratic problems of getting the opera's text passed by the Austrian government censors and having the orchestral parts copied in time. On top of that, there was the little matter of the Austrian capital being occupied by French troops, as the Napoleonic Wars were in progress at the time.
The cream of Viennese society had fled the city by the time Napoleon arrived, so the skimpy audience for the premiere performance of Beethoven's new opera included a good number of French troops. What Napoleon's soldiers made of Beethoven's opera, which tells the story of a woman rescuing her husband from a political prison, is anybody's guess.
The Viennese critics, for their part, were not impressed. "After the first performance," wrote one, "the theater remained completely empty. The music was way below the expectations of amateur and professional alike."
Another wrote, "As a rule, there are no new ideas in the vocal pieces, and they are mostly too long. The choruses are ineffectual and one, which indicates the joy of prisoners over the sensation of fresh air, miscarries completely!"
After several revisions, and the eventual departure of the French, even the critical Viennese came to accept Beethoven's opera, and in particular the Prisoners' Chorus, as one of his most moving creations.
Music Played on Today's Program:
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 - 1827): Overture & Prisoner�s Chorus, fr Fidelio Dresden Opera Chorus & Orchestra; Bernard Haitink, cond. Philips 438 496