Beethoven composed only one opera in his lifetime, the grand and profoundly moving Fidelio. The 1805 opera tells the story of Leonore, the wife of the unjustly imprisoned Florestan, who has been slowly dying, spiritually and physically, in a dungeon run by the tyrant Pizzaro. Desperate to save Florestan, Leonore disguises herself as a young man named Fidelio and takes a job in the prison where Florestan is held. Fidelio is an opera about courage, heroism, love, and the struggle for justice in the face of despotism.

Beethoven’s operatic masterpiece is at the heart of my new documentary, Love and Justice: In the Footsteps of Beethoven’s Rebel Opera. But as in my previous film, Following the Ninth: In the Footsteps of Beethoven’s Final Symphony, I track the themes and influence of Beethoven’s work across time and space to tell a deeply contemporary story.

Along with the tale of Leonore and Florestan, Love & Justice tells a parallel story of a man imprisoned during the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile—and the wife and children who worked to free him. The third tale woven into Love & Justice highlights the drama of Beethoven himself, who composed the opera at the very time (1803) when he discovered that he would become permanently deaf—a catastrophic spiritual defeat that he overcomes by writing some of the greatest music of his life.

To be filmed in Chile, Love & Justice takes a radical musical turn by having the renowned Chilean folk ensemble Inti-Ilimani perform the music for Fidelio. To add to the drama, our Chilean version of Fidelio will be staged in a former prison in Valparaiso.

Love & Justice: In the Footsteps of Beethoven’s Rebel Opera is the second part of our trilogy Beethoven | Hero. The first film, Following the Ninth: In the Footsteps of Beethoven’s Final Symphony, has screened around the world, and a similar broad theatrical release is planned for Love & Justice.

Please support us as we work to complete this project. Thank you very much for your help with Love & Justice, a film for our time, as we struggle to maintain the courage to change our world for the better.

Beethoven’s Fidelio is an opera about deep wounds, the despair and terror of isolation inflicted upon a man for his political beliefs. It is also an opera about our deepest affections, and the love shared between two individuals, Leonore and Florestan. In Fidelio, Beethoven presents to us a picture of chastened hope, a sensibility required of us if we are to maintain our humanity amid the darkness—sometimes personal, sometimes political—that surrounds each of us at one time or another.

But some countries have more than their fair share of unnecessary suffering, places where people still mourn for those imprisoned or killed, their humiliated and tortured. Chile is one of those countries, where the terror of dictatorship still ripples into the hearts and minds of millions. In Chile’s northern Atacama desert today, women still look for the scattered bones of their murdered loved ones left there forty years ago. They sift through dirt and rock, archaeologists of the morbid, to find slivers of a body once whole, once real and alive to life.

My connection to Chile is both long and profound. I have studied deeply the U.S. support for the military coup in 1973 that toppled Chile’s democratically elected government. I followed closely the torture, imprisonment, and killing of thousands that followed. Often enough, these tales were told in the songs that groups like Inti-Ilimani offered to the world while in exile.

I also found that the families of the Chilean desaparecidos used Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony as a source of hope, and of resistance to the dictatorship. And when I traveled to Chile for Following The Ninth, I became friends with many Chileanos who taught me their sorrow songs, their songs of joy, and who shared their stories of love and justice. This film is a partial payment on what these men and women have given me for free: an education in living that can never be fully repaid.

Beethoven biographer Jan Swafford on joy, love and justice in Fidelio and the Ninth Symphony.

© 2017 Battle Hymns Productions, LLC