Gold, Fidelio! Gold!!

The next parts of the Fidelio series are about the language of important arias. Today: Rocco’s famous Hat man nicht auch Gold beineben. Read excerpts from my book Die Frist ist um—Navigate the Language of 10 German Operas.

The Gold-Arie was Beethoven’s idea. He could not write an opera of liberation without including some observations on the power of gold—what it offers and what it oppresses. Rocco lectures Fidelio and Marzelline that marital life is worthless without monetary stimulus. Love is nothing if one cannot appease one’s hunger. Only money puts food on the table; not only that, money brings happiness to life and power to fruition. In the 1805 version of the aria, librettist Sonnleithner went so far as to list what else money can do: it can turn dignitary positions, jewels, and girls into goods. Money, Rocco sings in the second stanza, satisfies pride and revenge; the rich “should be ashamed,” he declares.

In 1806, the aria was removed from the score. Whether it fell victim to the censors or to the need to shorten the opera, we do not know. It reappeared in a benefit concert for a Rocco singer. Because the audience liked it, Beethoven decided to include it with some revisions in the 1814 version of the opera.

beineben obs. = besides, today: nebenbei
fortschleppen refl. sep. = to drag oneself away
einstellen refl. sep. = to appear, to rise

When the appeal of money is being pondered and its pros and cons are being weighed, the conditional clause must rule the sentence. It carries the conditions of having money on the side (Gold beineben), being happy (glücklich sein) and of gold coins clinking and rolling nicely in your pocket (in der Tasche fein klingelt und rollt). Wasting no time, Rocco begins his sentences with the conditional and lets the main statement follow.

He also deploys two ways to express the conditional: with and without an introductory word, a connector—here, wenn (if, when). He begins the aria with the conditional without a connector. In this case, he has to place the verb in position number one.

Hat man nicht auch Gold beineben,
kann man nicht ganz glücklich sein;
traurig schleppt sich fort das Leben,
mancher Kummer stellt sich ein.

He starts with a description of what happens if you do not have money set aside. Your life drags on, worries will set in. He does not use the introductory word: Wenn man nicht auch Gold beineben hat, kann man nicht ganz glücklich sein. The wenn shows up when he changes the mood, when he describes the bright side of having money.

Doch wenn’s in der Tasche fein klingelt und rollt,

da hält man das Schicksal gefangen,

He pairs the wenn in the conditional clause with da in the main clause. Although da is not necessary, it keeps the balance between the two parts of the sentence. Money in one’s pocket keeps one’s fate (Schicksal) under control (here: gefangen). The verbs in the following sentence are verschafft and stillet. What is doing the verschaffen and stillen? What is the subject of the sentence? Macht? Liebe? Gold? Verlangen?

Und Macht und Liebe verschafft dir das Gold
und stillet das kühnste Verlangen,
das Glück dient wie ein Knecht für Sold,
es ist ein schönes Ding, das Gold.

Here, wie does not mean “how.” It functions as a comparative particle. It tells us that two things are the same: happiness serves the way a servant serves for money.

verbinden = here: to go with
Summe f = sum
drum = therefore, also: darum
Zufall m = coincidence
Beutel m = here: purse for carrying money
lenken = here: to guide

Wenn sich nichts mit nichts verbindet,
ist und bleibt die Summe klein;
wer bei Tisch nur Liebe findet,
wird nach Tische hungrig sein.

One more conditional clause: if (wenn) nothing goes with nothing, the sum will be and will remain (bleibt) small. Have-nots will gain nothing if they do not strive for gold, Rocco believes. The next statement starts with wer—normally a question word inquiring about a person, but here a pronoun that relates to an unknown person in the relative clause. “The one who” (wer) finds only love at the table will be hungry after the meal. Note the different prepositions for table—bei and nach. The meaning changes depending on the preposition: am Tisch means just being at the table, bei Tisch being at the table and eating, and nach Tisch means just “after the meal.”

Drum lächle der Zufall euch gnädig und hold
und segne und lenk euer Streben;

What or who does lächle, segne, and lenk? What or who is the subject of the sentence? Zufall? Euch? Streben?

Note that Rocco expresses a wish without using the helping verb mögen: Möge der Zufall lächeln, segnen und lenken. Instead, he indicates his desire by changing the spelling of the verb, using the so-called subjunctive 1: der Zufall lächle, segne, lenk. However, in the last part he introduces mögen. He wishes that Fidelio and Marzelline may live through many years, embrace each other, and have money in the purse.

Das Liebchen im Arme, im Beutel das Gold,
so mögt ihr viel Jahre durchleben.
Das Glück dient wie ein Knecht für Sold,
es ist ein mächtig Ding, das Gold.

There is a third method of establishing a conditional clause, the hypotheticals, the thought experiment with wären, hätten, würden, etc. But examining what-ifs never crosses Rocco’s mind. Life is not made of blah-blah but of clear-cut alternatives: either you strive for money and have a good life or you don’t.

Listen to the Gold-Arie, sung by Kurt Moll:

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Bernd Hendricks. Born in Duisburg, Germany. Based in Berlin. Writer, German Language Educator. I was six years old when I went to the opera for the first time. My Grandma took me to Hänsel und Gretel at the Deutsche Oper am Rhein in Duisburg. The first time I met an opera singer personally was during my time as foreign correspondent in New York when at a Christmas party a baritone pelted me with questions about the language of Zauberflöte. He was preparing for his role as Papageno. After my return to Berlin in September 2010, I have been giving German lessons to singers on their audition tours. My workshops in Berlin, Vienna, and London are based on my widely read book Ach, ich fühl’s—German for Opera Singers in Three Acts: Studying, Speaking, Singing. My latest book, Die Frist ist um—Navigate the Language of 10 German Operas, takes you on a journey through the language of the most popular and often performed operas in the German-speaking countries. I am also the author of several non-fiction books and two novels.

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