Ludwig van Beethoven
The state prison courtyard.
Jaquino, the prison turnkey, loves Marzelline, daughter of the chief jailer Rocco (Duet: «Jetzt, Schätzchen, jetzt sind wir allein»), but the girl has rejected his attentions since the arrival at the prison of the young Fidelio. “He” is in reality Leonore, whose husband Florestan vanished mysteriously two years ago. Disbelieving rumours that he is dead, Leonore has come to the prison into which she suspects Florestan has been thrown by his enemy the governor Don Pizarro. Here, in male attire and under the name of Fidelio, she has earned the trust of Rocco, who has made “him” his assistant. Marzelline is alone and sings her love of Fidelio, whom she hopes soon to marry (Aria: «O wär ich schon mit dir vereint»). Rocco interprets his young assistant’s zeal as a sign of his love for Marzelline (Quartet: «Mir ist so wunderbar») and therefore promises his daughter in marriage to Fidelio. He reminds them both, though, not to forget that money also is necessary to happiness (Aria: «Hat man nicht auch Gold beineben»). occo agrees to Fidelio’s request also to take on the heaviest duties and to accompany him to the dungeons, where the disguised wife suspects that Florestan is being confined (Trio: «Gut, Söhnchen, gut»).
To the sound of a march, the prison governor Pizarro enters, accompanied by officials. He is given a letter warning him that Don Fernando, minister of Spain, is due shortly to inspect the prison. Pizarro at once decides to get rid of the prisoner held in a secret dungeon, and relishes the thought of his murder (Aria with chorus: «Ha, welch ein Augenblick»). He asks Rocco to kill the prisoner and to hide the corpse. When Rocco refuses, he orders him to dig a grave, announcing that he himself will do the deed (Duet: «Jetzt,Alter, jetzt hat es Eile»). Leonore, who has heard all, is horrified but does not give up hope of rescuing her husband (Recitative and aria: «Komm, Hoffnung, laß den letzten Stern»). She persuades Rocco to let the prisoners out for a few minutes, and they are seen walking unsteadily into the nfamiliar sunlight and fresh air (Finale: «O welche Lust, in freier Luft»). Meanwhile Fidelio gets permission from Rocco to go with him into the dungeons and to help him dig the prisoner’s grave. Pizarro is enraged by the jailer’s decision to let out the prisoners and has them sent straight back into their cells. Rocco calms his wrath by reminding him of Florestan’s imminent death.
A dark dungeon.
Florestan, imprisoned by Pizarro for having denounced his misdeeds, lies chained in the darkness but in the knowledge that he did right. In his delirium he has a vision of Leonore who has come like an angel to set him free (Introduction and aria: «In des Lebens Frühlingstagen»). Rocco and Fidelio enter to carry out Pizarro’s orders and to dig the prisoner’s grave (Melologue and duet: «Nur hurtig fort, nur frisch gegraben»). Leonore recognises Florestan, but waits before disclosing her identity to him; she comforts him with bread and wine and in return receives a promise of a reward in a better world (Trio: «Euch werde Lohn in bessern Welten»). Pizarro goes down to the dungeons, ready to commit his foul deed.As he raises his arm to stab the prisoner, he lets himself be recognised. But Leonore flings herself between the two men and likewise makes herself known.When Pizarro recovers from his surprise, he steps forward to slay them both, but again Leonore prevents him by threatening him with a pistol (Quartet: «Er sterbe! Doch er soll erst wissen»).
A trumpet-blast is heard from the tower announcing the arrival of the minister. Pizarro hurries up from the dungeon to receive him. Leonore and Florestan can at last embrace and give vent to their joy (Duet: «O namenlose Freude!»). The parade ground of the castle with a statue of the king. Don Fernando bears a message of fraternity and liberty: by the king’s orders, all the prisoners are to be released. When Rocco ushers Florestan and Leonore into Don Fernando’s presence, the minister is astonished to recognise his friend who he had believed was dead. Pizarro’s crimes are revealed and he is arrested. Everybody exults as Leonore frees Florestan from his chains (Finale: «Heil sei dem Tag, heil sei der Stunde»).