Πέμπτη, 7 Ιουνίου 2012

Fidelio and Greek Politics

Let me get one thing straight: I am not a fan of "Fidelio". It is my deep belief that Beethoven knew how to write symphonic music, but when it came to adding voice into the lot, he simply messed up. I mean, honestly, even the choral parts of his 9th Symphony are simply out of the reaches of the human voice! Despite the fact that it's brilliant music. The same applies to his only opera. Thank God he only composed one; I'd hate to think what would have happened had he decided to continue on that path! Curiously, Beethoven considered Handel to be the greatest composer of all times, but I guess in Beethoven's time, the only Handelian work surviving was his "Messiah", so he couldn't have had access to all the brilliant operas the "caro Sassone" produced over more than two decades. But I'm not going to talk about Handel here, although I'd love to. I'm going to talk about "Fidelio", even though I am quite reluctant to do so. But there is a need to talk about this particular work, because, from all the political operas I have in mind - from Mozart's "Mitridate, Re di Ponto" and "La clemenza di Tito", to Puccini's "Tosca" and even some Donizetti operas - "Fidelio" bears a similarity to certain events that take place in Greece these serious days. I will admit that the comparison may seem far fetched, but I do believe it is valid. Because this is a german opera, I expect the Germans reading this entry will be outraged, because most Germans these days are outraged with Greeks. And for the same reason, but on the opposite side, I expect the Greeks to also react outrageously at this entry, because it is a german opera, and most Greeks these days do not have the warmest of feelings for Germans.
I won't go into desribing the plot in great detail, but there might be some readers not familiar with it, so I have to give a summary: Fidelio - in truth Leonore, disguised as a man - works at the state prison, assisting the principal prison guard, Rocco, because she is in search of her wrongfully imprisoned husband, Florestan. In so doing, Rocco's daughter, Marzelline, falls in love with her, thus ignoring the other guard, whose name I don't recall but is quite insignificant. Also, she gains Rocco's trust and when the time comes to visit the most secret of the prisoners, Leonore convinces him to take her along. Florestan is a nobleman and a political prisoner of Don Pizarro, who is the prison's governor and an enemy to democracy. Pizarro plans on murdering Florestan, because Don Fernando, the King's minister, will pay a visit to  the prison and Pizarro does not want him to discover the wrongfully imprisoned nobleman there and orders Rocco to dig the latters grave in his underground cell. Fidelio/Leonore goes with Rocco and recognizes her husband. Then, when Pizarro is also downstairs with the lot, she exposes her true identity and attempts to kill Pizarro with a gun, but right at that moment Don Fernando arrives at the prison and Pizarro is taken in as a prisoner himself. Don Fernando announces the end of tyranny and everyone extols the importance of a faithful wife in the end, in honor of Leonore.
In my humble opinion the plot is miserable and not because it takes place in a prison. It lacks the psychological depth of other works and it goes out of its way to prove Leonore's constancy to her husband - not a bad thing in itself - and Florestan's innocence against Pizarro's dark plans - again, not a bad thing. But the plot has so many other aspects it could have worked out to make an interesting story line. In the first act there is this whole menage a trois thing with Fidelio, Marzelline and that other guy (Jaquino was the name; ghastly), not to mention the obvious homosexual attraction that goes on between Marzelline and Fidelio/Leonore. But no, the libretists focus entirely on Leonore and her struggles and this sub-plot goes under and never resurfaces again. Also, apart from the few mentions of Pizarro and his appearance at the end of the first act, he only becomes important in the second act and even there, he is not as terrifying as one would expect him to be, because the audience knows for a fact - even someone seeing this opera for the first time - that he will get his deserved punishment. And the audience knows that, because Beethoven is not a theatre man to go the extra mile and take a bold and unexpected leap. His heroes, whom he has tried to elevate and make appear as larger than life, have to come out triumphant over the villain. As they do in the end. Even the "deus ex machina" trick with Don Fernando's appearance is completely unnecessary. The only necessity it serves is that Leonore, as an unspoiled and essentially romantic heroine, must not take a life - otherwise she becomes exactly like Pizarro. And, believe it or not, this opera has the most hilarious scene in the most dramatic instance ever! It's the part were Leonore explains to everyone in the dungeon who she really is and then everyone goes like: "Mein Weib!" "Sein Weib!" "Dein Weib!" ("My wife!" "His wife!" "Your wife!") for a minute. Hilarious! Absolutely comical! And the music there is over the top too, adding to that comic effect as well... 
But enough of this particular analysis of Beethoven's weaknesses as an opera composer. I now become political once again, and I hate that. This opera, supposedly, is an opera about freedom and democracy. Beethoven was a delusional musical genius, who believed too much in people and when they failed his ideals, he simply got angry with them - and occassionally removed dedications from his works. Ideally, Beethoven could have emerged as the perfect example of the artist who influences politics for a better world, because he did believe in a better world. But his allegiances were always with the wrong people, and his music, despite being extremely popular with the audiences and the high society as well, never really succeeded in teaching people anything. Unfortunately. Which goes to prove once more that, even though we all say that Art can influence a person's way of thinking and hopefully for the better, essentially no one ever listens to the hidden messages of it and still goes around doing whatever they were doing before. It's so sad! 
So what now? Why did I want to talk about "Fidelio"? I was going to make a point, right? Well, the point is coming - I hope. And it's this: Florestan, along with all the other political prisoners Pizarro is keeping in his little prison, is the righteous Greek people. By righteous I mean those who pay their taxes, do not break the law, have a certain logic of things, do not go about killing people in the process, prefer a conversation to the destruction of public or private property and are critical of the political environment they find themselves in (and they are quite a few, despite the fact that many people think they don't exist anymore). Rocco is the compassionate, but weak ally, who expresses his sympathy for the predicament of the Greek people (do I really have to name names here?), but in the end obeys the rule of the mighty Pizarro. Pizarro is the combination of both the Greek government and the international financial elite, that despises true democracy and is interested only in personal gain, not caring about how many corpses they leave behind. And Fidelio/Leonore in this case, doesn't even exist. She represents the hope that "help will come", but that help is mostly a lie and Fidelio/Leonore is unable to stand up to the oppressors. Essentially, Fidelio is a ghost in this case. In our case, what happens is exactly what happened in Calixto Bieito's staging of "Fidelio" in Munich last year: Don Fernando arrives and is dressed up as the Joker from Batman - the most iconic representation of Chaos - and in the end, instead of rescuing Florestan, he shoots him. Don Fernando is the representation of all the supposed rescuers of Greece and all countries in crisis. Instead of liberating them, he shoots them. I guess that's also one way out of it, right?
If you expect solutions from me, you're going to have to wait for a long time. I don't have them. But the thing about me is that I never said I had them. Which is why I don't listen to people (e.g. politicians) who claim to have solutions to the problem. The only people nowadays that become politicians are those who have such huge psychological problems, they try to project them on everyone else to escape their own little and insignificant selves. A true and great politician cannot be willing to take up the reigns, because willingness corrupts. And there isn't one uncorrupted politician in the whole of the planet Earth, I'll swear on that! There is no viable solution in my eyes to the current problem the world is facing. And this is not the pessimist point of view. It is the realistic one. I am caught in the middle - those who know me just a little bit, know what I mean by middle - and I am not going to pick a side. Not anymore. Not while these people are controlling my destiny. I will not turn into Fidelio either, because I know that I will be disappointed if I do. But I will save my breath for a better and brighter day, hoping that something will change.