Beethoven's Only Opera Turns Damsel-in-Distress Trope on its Head

Jul 16, 2018

Soprano Jessica Luffey will play the role of Leonore In Glow Lyric Theatre's upcoming production of Beethoven's Fidelio.
Credit Katherine Escobar / Escobar Photography

It’s a common plot for an opera: an endangered female character awaits rescue from the male lead.  But Ludwig van Beethoven wasn’t generally one to settle for common.

In his opera Fidelio, it is the female protagonist who saves the day. Disguising herself as a prison guard named “Fidelio,” the courageous Leonore rescues her ailing husband, Florestan, from his imprisonment.

According to Christian Elser, co-founder and Executive Director of Glow Lyric Theatre in Greenville, such a reversal of the familiar damsel-in-distress plotline makes Beethoven’s only opera a remarkable one.

“She is not a damsel in distress. She does not require the tenor to come save her,” Christian says of Fidelio’s Leonore. “Rather she saves the tenor and has agency. And for an opera that’s over two-hundred years old… it’s just something else.”

Indeed, even more than two centuries after its 1814 premiere, Beethoven’s Fidelio continues to resonate with audiences through its themes of self-sacrifice, heroism, and the struggle for liberty.

In this interview that aired Friday, July 13th, SCPR’s Bradley Fuller talks with Christian about Glow Lyric Theatre’s upcoming production of Fidelio and two other works being staged as part of its eighth festival season, “Demand the Right to Dream”: Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights and Gilbert and Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore. The season begins July 20th and runs through August 5th, with all performances at the Warehouse Theatre in Greenville. More information here.

For Glow's staging of Lin-Manuel Miranda's In the Heights, De'Ja Crumpton (left) plays Vanessa and Ediberto Ortega (right) plays Usnavi.
Credit Katherine Escobar / Escobar Photography
Colin Markey (left) fills the role of Ralph Rackstraw, and Danielle Knox (right) that of Josephine in Glow's production of Gilbert and Sullivan's HMS Pinafore.
Credit Katherine Escobar / Escobar Photography