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Art is a reflection of society and the times. Nina Simone said it best, “It’s an artist’s duty to reflect the times in which we live.”
So it’s no surprise that there are so many historical depictions of the horrors and heroics of war — Les Troyens, Guillaume Tell, Dialogues des Carmelites, The Long Walk, and others.
When music and text are storytelling, we learn and feel so much.
As with most of the world, I’ve been watching in shock at Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine. My heart goes out to everyone in Ukraine.
War is the ultimate human coordination failure. And it is abstract and unfathomable to so many Americans, including me.
I've never seen a city in pieces. And I’ve never feared warplanes overhead.
But it’s ok not to understand something and not have your own life shaped by it. I've learned though, that it’s not ok to take that space of unknowing into something that trivializes the suffering that is happening right now.
The bravery I see from the Ukrainians fighting for their lives and the Russian people opposing this war is unbelievable. Their courage inspires me and reminds me how fortunate we are (and that our enemies in the US are not our neighbors who think slightly differently than us).
Margaret Atwood once said, “War is what happens when language fails.”
Leonore in Fidelio
In the face of political injustice, Leonore in Beethoven’s German opera Fidelio demonstrates unshakeable courage and strength of conviction.
Beethoven only wrote one opera, and Fidelio caused him so much frustration that he never attempted another. But, he noted that although “it is the work that brought me the most sorrow, for that reason, it is the one most dear to me.”
In Fidelio, Leonore goes undercover to rescue her husband, a political prisoner who has been locked away in a secret dungeon. She disguises herself as a male guard named Fidelio and gets a job in the prison where he is being held.
In this aria, Leonora overhears them (Don Pizarro to Rocco) talking about killing a prisoner she thinks is her husband, Florestan. She wonders how they can be so cruel, but soon decides that love will help her overcome their evil plans.
This is her hymn to hope.
🎧 Listening Example: (8 minute listen): Finnish Soprano Karita Mattila (Leonore) singing “Abscheulicher! wo eilst du hin?...Komm, Hoffnung, lass den letzten Stern” from a 2000 production of Beethoven’s Fidelio at the Met.
Thank you for reading (and listening),