Beethoven’s Fidelio Plays out on a Modern Stage… in Belmarsh Prison

By Luc Trudel

A recently posted video allows anyone to quietly visit the site where, a man, a good man, is prevented to live his life peacefully because he exercised one of his human rights.

The video serves as a reminder of the disgraceful fact that Julian Assange  has been held unjustly in UK’s Belmarsh prison since April 2019.

By making use of the modern means we enjoy today, these journalists and videographers of the Daily Mail have provided every human soul alive today, having a networked computer device at his disposal, the ability to get connected to the moral reality of the world.

No one will be able to say he or she did not know. A tragedy is playing out on the world’s stage, and we are all free to either realize what is going on or to look away.

Will you be paying attention?

Yes, I want to be clear. Julian Assange did not reveal state secrets. He revealed crimes.

The situation, of course is unjust however injustices are not new. Some of the greatest art ever produced, endures today with us partly because the artists intervened in history, capturing and sharing  in the process the lessons in dealing with injustices to the benefit of humankind’s aesthetical education.

Watching the eloquent Stella Morris speaking with dignified poise of the injustices being faced by her fiancé, one is moved by her humanity,  her strength, to fight for her man, the way… perhaps the way WE should  ALL be fighting… determinedly and steadfastly for our fellow-brother-man, but for Stella, it’s her Julian… and yet she’s composed…

Stella Morris at Belmarsh. [screengrab from the linked daily mail video]

My heart goes out to this lovely couple and their family.

I have recently had the pleasure of watching, for the first time, Fidelio, the Opera, composed by Beethoven, known to have been inspired early on in his life by the exalted spirit of freedom of the famous German poet, Friedrich Schiller. I must say, for my part, I had never ever cared for Opera… before watching Fidelio!

In Fidelio, a devoted wife named Leonore will do anything she can, will go so far as to dress up as a man to ask for a job to work at the prison where her husband is hidden away in solitary confinement as a “dangerous” political prisoner. In disguise, she takes on the name “Fidelio” and risks her life, to find out if her husband is still alive and hopefully to free him.

Yes, Florestan of Beethoven’s opera and Julian Assange are both innocent political prisoners and they are both dignified by the unwavering support and courage contributed to their outcome by their loving partner, but there’s more.  Journeying through Fidelio will have us benefit from the creative mind’s unique faculty to bend time, within imagination, rendering time as if in a kind of simultaneity of eternity, a sort of interweaving of time, within which our softest of whispered insight induces in us an ability to connect the immaterial dots/events separated by centuries.

What made my experience even more interesting was being able to imagine Julian’s story as being a modern-day reflection of the similar principle, in the quest of Freedom, playing out in real life, today, as a modern-day existential crisis for all of us to take part in, simultaneously.

Editor’s note: In Beethoven’s Fidelio, this sentiment is brilliantly displayed in the Prisoner’s chorus O welche Lust—”O what a joy” performed by all of the political prisoners jailed in the facility housing Florestan. This chorus stands as an ode to Freedom in the face of tyranny for all time. The appreciation of freedom is also balanced by a sobering recognition of evil that life under a tyranny imposes onto those who value their humanity more than their lives.

English translation of the Prisoner’s chorus

PRISONERS’ CHORUS
Oh what joy, in the open air
Freely to breathe again!
Up here alone is life!
The dungeon is a grave.

FIRST PRISONER
We shall with all our faith
Trust in the help of God!
Hope whispers softly in my ears!
We shall be free, we shall find peace.

ALL THE OTHERS
Oh Heaven! Salvation! Happiness!
Oh Freedom! Will you be given us?

SECOND PRISONER
Speak softly! Be on your guard!
We are watched with eye and ear.

ALL
Speak softly! Be on your guard!
We are watched with eye and ear.
Oh what joy, in the open air
Freely to breathe again!
Up here alone is life.
Speak softly! Be on your guard!

The case of Julian Assange is one of the most emblematic and hopefully, one of the most representative of a modern inflection point at which humanity’s future orientation stands potentially to be determined. These sorts of times try men’s souls, and serve the purpose of testing whether we have, collectively, the moral fitness to survive. (I ask you the question: Do we?  Do you?)

Additionally, Stella Morris, a lawyer by trade, presents herself as an intelligent, valiant, loyal, sensitive yet strong woman, a positive example for the world too see. She reminds me of some very notable characters in history and art and particularly should remind those familiar with the great renowned German poet, Friedrich Schiller, of ‘The Maid of Orleans’, the play in which the dramatist presents an extraordinarily strong female character, Jeanne D’Arc.

It appears the spirit of Schiller is indeed alive and at home  in Beethoven’s as not only is Ludwig directly quoting a few lines taken from the poet’s ‘Ode to Joy’, inserting them in his 9th Symphony but he also takes the occasion of his first and only Opera composition, probably in close collaboration with his librettist, to showcase a strong  and noble woman as the hero in the story.  The beauty in this conception of the artist’s shared oneness of mind, that between the poet of freedom and the composer of Fidelio is bonded further with another yet unexpected twist when considering that in 1989, the conductor Leonard Bernstein led a series of concerts showcasing  Beethoven’s 9th Symphony in commemoration of the fall of the Berlin wall and creatively took the liberty to change the word Freude (“joy”) to Freiheit (“freedom”) throughout the chorale figuratively joining in holy matrimony Joy and Freedom as powerful allies in the fight to end tyranny for good.

However you look at it, Beethoven’s Opera is unlike any other and really stands out amongst the whole repertoire of Opera. A truly inspiring story full of hope when presented accurately as the author, composer and dramatist had intended.

Let us soon show the world how Beethoven and Schiller’s ode to Freedom, had been offered to humanity as a gift, helping us in the process of discovery of how we had always been free to act, to do good, even when all circumstances presented the situation to the cynics amongst us, as lost.

___

Editor’s note: In order to entice you to watch the full opera, here is a sample from the Royal Opera House performance entitled Mir ist so wunderbar (‘A wonderful feeling fills me’). In this canon quartet, Beethoven’s skill as a dramatist, musician and even psychologist is brought on display with four separate characters singing a common fugal piece yet infused with completely different words to indicate each person’s completely incompatible perception of reality (with only Leonore having a clear sense of what is happening).

One-Time
Monthly
Yearly

Make a one-time donation

Make a monthly donation

Make a yearly donation

Choose an amount

$5.00
$15.00
$100.00
$5.00
$15.00
$100.00
$5.00
$15.00
$100.00

Or enter a custom amount

$

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s