Leonore Is Fed Up

With the recitative and aria Abscheulicher! Wo eilst du hin? Fidelio who has just overheard Pizarro’s order to kill the prisoner in the dungeon, becomes Leonore. She turns inward. Her aria is reflective and passionate. Therefore, she must speak and sing in a more complex language. For the next seven minutes or so—and in the last part of the series about Beethoven’s opera—she leads us through everything German grammar has to offer.


abscheulich = abhorrent; Abscheulicher = a person who is abhorrent
hineilen sep. = to hurry to a place
vorhaben sep. = to intend
Grimm m = fierceness
Tigersinn m = conscience of a tiger, conscience of a brave person
Meereswoge f = wave of the sea, pl. Meereswogen
Farbenbogen m obs. = rainbow
niederblicken sep. = to look down
widerspiegeln sep. = to reflect

The Poet’s Genitive

des Mitleids Ruf = cry of compassion, a call to be compassionate, today: der Ruf des Mitleids
der Menschheit Stimme = voice of humanity, today: die Stimme der Menschheit
der Seele Zorn und Wut = wrath and anger of the soul, today: Zorn und Wut der Seele

Abscheulicher! Wo eilst du hin?
Was hast du vor in wildem Grimme?
Des Mitleids Ruf, der Menschheit Stimme—
rührt nichts mehr deinen Tigersinn?

She has expressed her dismay of Pizarro’s excess of hatred and lack of compassion. Now, two worlds collide—Pizarro and Leonore, Meereswogen and Farbenbogen, dark (dunkel) and bright (hell), somewhat interlinked through a conditional construction, which is enhanced by two identifiers, doch and so, but comes without the introductory word, the connector wenn. She could say, Wenn auch Zorn und Wut wie Meereswogen dir in der Seele toben, leuchtet mir ein Farbenbogen. Because she wants to be concise, she says instead:

Doch toben auch wie Meereswogen
dir in der Seele Zorn und Wut,
so leuchtet mir ein Farbenbogen,
der hell auf dunklen Wolken ruht:

Note, the subject of this sentence, the things that do the toben (to rampage, to rage) are Zorn and Wut. Where do they do the toben? In der Seele (soul). In what way? Wie Meereswogen. Also note the last part of the sentence in which Leonore says, der hell auf dunklen Wolken ruht. The article der relates to the masculine noun Farbenbogen. Der Farbenbogen ruht auf dunklen Wolken. Not only that:

Der blickt so still, so friedlich nieder,
der spiegelt alte Zeiten wider,
und neu besänftigt wallt mein Blut.

In these last lines, Leonore’s Farbenbogen prevails over Pizarro’s Meereswogen. Since Farbenbogen is a masculine noun, it is represented by the pronoun der. It looks down quietly (still) and peacefully (friedlich) and it reflects (widerspiegeln refl.) those old times, when Florestan was free and and unfettered by Pizarro’s despotism. Hence, soothed again, her blood flows through her veins (wallen).



dringen = here: to get through, to reach; zur Stelle dringen = to get through to the place
erbleichen = here: to fade
erhellen = to lighten
Gattenliebe f = marital love
in Fesseln schlagen = to clap in irons = to shackle, simple past: [in Fesseln] schlugen, ich schlug
tragen = here: to bear, simple past: trugen, ich trug

Trieb m = drive
wanken = to waver

Her outrage has given way to calm. She calls upon hope by using the imperative three times, with three urgent requests: komm, lass, and erhell. Hope is light; that is what she intends to bring to the dungeons.

Komm Hoffnung, lass den letzten Stern
der Müden nicht erbleichen!
O komm, erhell’ mein Ziel, sei’s noch so fern,

She does not know how far away her goal (Ziel n) is. For her it does not matter, which she expresses with subjunctive 1, turning sein into sei: Sei es (be it) noch so fern (as far away as can be). It is love that moves her forward, love that will accomplish the Ziel. Note the future tense with the helping verb werden: Die Liebe wird es erreichen.

Die Liebe, sie wird’s erreichen.
Ich folg’ dem inneren Triebe,
ich wanke nicht,
mich stärkt die Pflicht
der treuen Gattenliebe!

The verb in the last statement is stärkt (to strengthen). Who or what strengthens whom or what? Does mich (Leonore) strengthen the duty (Pflicht) or does the duty strengthen mich (Leonore)?

O du, für den ich alles trug,
könnt ich zur Stelle dringen,
wo Bosheit dich in Fesseln schlug,
und süßen Trost dir bringen!

In the first line, Leonore leaves no doubt for whom (für den) she bore everything: O du. Next, she proclaims her desires using the subjunctive könnte (could), the verb form for thought experiments. Because könnte only appears with infinitive verbs we can identify the actions she is longing to do: dringen and bringen. Könnte ich zur Stelle dringen und süßen Trost dir bringen. She wishes she could get to the place and bring him sweet comfort. Using wo, she adds extra information about that place. She tells us what happened there: Bosheit (here: evil) put him in shackles.

Ich folg’ dem inneren Triebe,
ich wanke nicht,
mich stärkt die Pflicht
der treuen Gattenliebe!

Published by


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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