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Beethoven wrote a single opera, named Fidelio. As its name suggests, the opera is about fidelity—in particular, the fidelity owing between husband and wife. Fidelity may never have been expressed so exquisitely as it is by Fidelio.

But fidelity to Fidelio is another matter. Because Fidelio, Beethoven's only opera, turns out not to be Beethoven's only opera; it turns out not to be an opera at all. It is two operas: The original but long-forgotten Fidelio that Beethoven wrote in 1804, and then a second, substantially amended Fidelio—with its arias shifted around, its action altered, its music fiddled with (would a translator find an etymological link between fiddling and fidelity?)—that appeared ten years later.

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