Beethoven – Leonore Overture No. 2, Op. 72a
Two functions of an opera’s overture are to suggest the nature of the drama about to unfold and to whet our appetite for it. The Fidelio overture performs these functions with extreme dynamic contrasts that usher us into the opera’s world. That world is twofold: Beethoven chose a standard “rescue drama” plot (originally set in France during the Reign of Terror), but embeds a love story within it. In the opera’s overture, as in the opera itself, we hear these two themes interact. In the Leonore overtures and in the opera itself, the martial sound of brasses and timpani reflect the drama of rescue from oppression, while the softer tones of strings and woodwinds turn our thoughts inward to the meaning of imprisonment, freedom, and love. The urgency of the opening bars is intensified by timpani that suggest both cannon fire and a beating heart, but a rousing opening allegro quickly leads into a slower adagio in which a horn states the theme and the woodwinds are prominent. These themes are developed in alternating statements until they combine in an intense coda. Freedom, defended by love, has prevailed.