Composer David Lang: Why I wanted to tell the prisoners’ story from Beethoven’s “Fidelio”

Posted on: January 13, 2020

“I was in my early 20s when I first saw Fidelio, Beethoven’s only opera, on stage,” writes composer David Lang in Friday’s (1/10) Guardian (U.K.) “Beethoven himself was unhappy with the opera. He drastically rewrote it several times over the course of many years…. Fidelio is full of beautiful music, and beautiful ideas, but it has real dramatic problems…. The most famous part of the show is the stirring Prisoners’ Chorus at the end of the first act: We trust in God! We will be free! And then … we don’t hear from them again until the very last moments of the opera… I decided to make my own version of the piece…. My new opera, Prisoner of the State, doesn’t use any of Beethoven’s music, but I did want to have it constantly in contact with his libretti…. I added the prisoners to almost every scene.… It was Beethoven, with such works as Fidelio and the Ninth Symphony, who pioneered the idea that a composer could challenge society, that music has the power to stand up for something…. I—and all composers everywhere—inherited that job from Beethoven himself. Maybe that is the best 250th birthday tribute we can give him in 2020.”

In photo: The New York Philharmonic’s world premiere production of David Lang’s Prisoner of the State, David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center, June 2019. The BBC Symphony Orchestra gave the European premiere of the work at the Barbican in London last week. Photo: Chris Lee