Kimy McLaren, Pascale Beaudin, Jean-Michel Richer, Keven Geddes, Dominique Côté, Tomislav Lavoie & Alexandree Sylvestre; Opera Lafayette/Ryan Brown; dir. Oriol Tomas (New York, 2017)
Naxos DVD: 2.110591; Blu-ray: NBD0085V 82 mins
If Léonore was simply where Fidelio began then it would be only a footnote in operatic history, for Pierre Gaveaux (1761-1825) is no Beethoven. But how two very different composers respond to the same libretto is both fascinating and instructive. Beethoven treated Jean-Nicolas Bouilly’s text as the triumph of goodness, darkness banished by a wife’s love for her husband. For Gaveaux, who created the role of Florestan in his Léonore, it was a slice of recent history, an opéra comique with spoken dialogue first performed in 1798, less than a decade after the mass executions of the Revolutionary Terror. His work adds to our understanding of what was happening to French music in this period, exhibiting the tension between late-18th-century Classicism and a more radical aesthetic.
Ryan Brown, artistic director of Opera Lafayette, is to be congratulated on both staging and recording Léonore. Resources were clearly stretched with a chorus of prisoners in single figures that overcrowd Laurence Mongeau’s abstract set of swinging doors and gates. Yet in a pit that seems to tumble into the auditorium, Brown coaxes a convincing account of Gaveaux’s score from his orchestra playing on authentic instruments, particularly in the overture and the dark-hued introduction to the second act and Florestan’s dungeon – hushed cellos and violas. The cast of mostly young French Canadians works very much as an ensemble. Tomislav Lavoie is a brisk no-nonsense Roc (Rocco in Beethoven), and Pascale Beaudin turns his daughter into a flirty soubrette. If the tessitura of Florestan’s opening aria isn’t as cruelly high as in Fidelio, Jean-Michel Richer does his best to portray a mind at the end of its tether. But it’s Léonore who really matters and Kimy McLaren is a beguiling heroine who makes the most of her first act aria and then the duet with Florestan. Who wouldn’t hope to be rescued by this Fidelio?