Beethoven and the Heroic Part 3: Leonore’s Aria: A study in finding one’s courage.
Notes by Fred Haight
An aria in opera, is like a soliloquy in a play. The actor shares his or her struggle with their innermost self, directly with you, the audience.
Leonore gains great courage in this aria. To comprehend that though, we must return to an earlier installment, where we quoted Schiller’s, “On the Pathetic”:
“It is not art, to become master of feelings, which only lightly and fleetingly sweep the surface of the soul; but to retain one’s mental freedom in a storm, which arouses all of sensuous nature, thereto belongs a capacity of resisting that is, above all natural power, infinitely sublime.”
If Leonore were not upset, something would be wrong. The warden of the prison, Pizarro, not knowing who she is, has just told her of his intention to murder her husband Florestan. She lacks any means to oppose him. In the first section of her Aria, she displays great anger and rage. There is no melody, and little rhythm. At 1:09 in this recording, the image of a rainbow begins to introduce a calming influence, and a degree of self control.
“You monster! Where will you go?
What have you planned in cruel fury?
The call of pity, the voice of mankind,
Will nothing move your tiger’s wrath?
Though ire and anger
surge like ocean’s waves
in your heart,
A rainbow still shines on my path,
Which brightly rests on somber clouds:
It looks so calmly, peacefully at me,
Of happier days reminding me
And soothes thus my troubled heart.”
Upon contemplating the idea of a rainbow, she begins to regain her composure.
The second section of her aria, is a beautiful, slow song of hope, and inner peace, starting at 2:15
“Come hope, let not the last bright star
Be obscured in my anguish!
Light up my goal, however far,
Through love I shall still reach it.”
In the third, fast section, starting at 5:11, she finds her resolve, and becomes determined to act, on behalf of not just her husband, but on behalf of justice!
“I follow my inner calling,
I shall not waver
I derive strength
From faithfulness and love.
Oh you, for whom I bore so much,
If I could penetrate
Where malice has imprisoned you
And bring to you sweet comfort!
I follow my inner calling,
I shall not waver,
I derive strength,
From faithfulness and love.”
This is an amazing transformation, and gives us a comprehensible notion of finding one’s courage, rather than a static image of a fixed courage.