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Beethoven: Leonore (1805 Version)

Nathalie Paulin, Jean-Michel Richer, et al; Opera Lafayette Chorus & Orchestra/Ryan Brown (Naxos / DVD)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Leonore (1805 Version)
Nathalie Paulin, Jean-Michel Richer, Stephen Hegedus, Pascale Beaudin, Matthew Scollin, Keven Geddes, Alexandre Sylvestre; Opera Lafayette Chorus & Orchestra/Ryan Brown; dir. Oriol Tomas (NYC, 2020)
Naxos DVD: 2.110674; Blu-ray: NBD0121V   148 mins


After a pioneering recording of Pierre Gaveaux’s Léonore, Opera Lafayette has decamped from France to Vienna for a more familiar version of the same libretto: Beethoven’s Leonore, composed in 1805.

Lafayette’s modest production suggests that first thoughts were good thoughts but that Leonore is a different opera from Fidelio. Not only is the complete story told musically in the Overture (‘Leonora No. 2’), but the placing of the sung numbers, particularly the duet for Marzelline and Fidelio in Act II about marital fidelity, suggests that what interests Beethoven in 1805 is conjugal bliss in a domestic setting. A decade later when he completes Fidelio, his final version of this ‘rescue’ opera, it will be liberty, freedom and a wife ready to sacrifice her life to save her husband. Much grander themes.

It’s the same simple set as for Gaveaux’s Léonore – wooden frames for doors and gates on a stage with scarcely room to swing a kitten. Nathalie Paulin is a fine Fidelio, touchingly human, too, when beset by doubts. Stephen Hegedus is a gruff, good-hearted Rocco, and Pascale Beaudin’s Marzelline is deliciously flighty with scarlet lipstick and a voice to match. Jean-Michel Richer is untaxed by Florestan’s high tessitura but, alas, Matthew Scollin’s Pizarro, all cloak and swirling moustaches, seems to have wandered in from a 19th-century melodrama.

Playing original instruments, the Opera Lafayette Orchestra conducted by Ryan Brown are admirable, with bubbling horns – unvalved – in Florestan’s Act III aria.  And that trumpet call that signals the rescue is indeed heart stopping.

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Christopher Cook