We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020


Opera Lafayette's production of Beethoven's Leonore (photo by Louis Forget)

Boy loves Girl, Girl loves Another Boy (sounds familiar?).  Wait, the Boy she loves is actually a Girl disguised as a Boy.  Of course, by now you've figured out that we're speaking of Beethoven's Fidelio. But we are not! We are speaking of the precursor to Fidelio which Beethoven wrote in 1804. How come we didn't know about this?

Opera Lafayette, on their too infrequent visits to New York City, is famed for unearthing treasures; but this treasure was missing something important. What's an opera without a tenor aria? Not that Beethoven didn't write one but in the process of revising an opera that didn't go over well with the French soldiers occupying Vienna at the time, much was lost.

Leave it to Artistic Director and Maestro Ryan Brown to engage the services of the renowned Will Crutchfield to work with Beethoven's sketches and recreate the aria. The scholarship involved in this project made for interesting reading in the program book; rather than reveal it, we prefer to urge you to attend the final performance Wednesday night at the Kaye Playhouse of Hunter College. You will be lucky, dear Reader, to snag a ticket and you will thank me.  (You are welcome!)
If you were reading my blog three years ago, you may have read about Opera Lafayette's production of Pierre Gavreaux's Leonore. If you have not, you can enter "Opera Lafayette" in the search bar and read about what might have been the inspiration for this telling of the same tale. If so it was a genius idea to utilize the same set and costumes and much of the same cast. We spoke with some of the singers and got the picture that learning the same role in German for these Francophiles was a challenge, one that they met successfully. The acting remained at the same fine quality.

There is plenty of spoken dialogue which often reminded us of a graphic novel like Maus by Art Spiegelman. The simplicity allowed us to focus on the themes and the music. 

As you probably know, the themes are those of overcoming oppression and the role of woman as rescuer. The titular character portrayed by the splendid soprano Nathalie Paulin has disguised herself (not very convincingly to our eye) as a man and secured a position as assistant to the jailer Rocco  (the fine bass-baritone Stephen Hegedus) who runs the prison where she believes her husband to be incarcerated.

Rocco's lively pixieish teenage daughter, portrayed by delightful soprano Pascale Beaudin, rejects her ardent suitor Jaquino (Keven Geddes) in the delightful opening scene and convinces her father that Leonore is the "man" for her. He consents.

Leonore wins the trust of Rocco, gets into the dungeon, and rescues her husband Florestan (tennorific Jean-Michel Richer) from the evil machinations of Don Pizarro, who wanted vengeance for Florestan's criticism of his evil ways. Let us say at this point that Matthew Scollin, who sang the role of Pizarro, created the most evil villain in our memory.

A deus ex machina concludes the opera with the arrival of the King's Minister Don Fernando (booming bass Alexandre Sylvestre) and the prisoners rejoice and celebrate Leonore's heroism.

The music captivated us from the moment Maestro Brown raised his baton. Please don't ask which of the four overtures we heard. It's like trying to sort out Puccini's four iterations of Madama Butterfly. Whichever it was we enjoyed the descending motif and the portentous theme. There were ascending flute arpeggi to lighten the mood. When the orchestra got into the melody that all Beethoven lovers will recognize, Maestro Brown carefully elicited the modulations from major to minor that make this overture so memorable and affecting.

The singing was superb all around and hearing the restored tenor aria was a special treat. Mr. Richer has grown in the role dramatically, in spite of having to sing in a different language. Actually we were quite satisfied with everyone's German diction and barely noticed the missing subtitles at the beginning which were quickly restored.

The score has some fine arias but we were most impressed by the duets and ensembles. The opera was written just five years after Mozart's death but we heard many echoes of him both musically and philosophically. Both composers created characters imbued with humanity and higher values.

Oriol Tomas directed with finesse until the final scene. We didn't care for the way it was staged; the words sung by Leonore and Florestan did not match up with the action. He was chained in place but Leonore, who should have been rushing to him, was lying at the other end of the stage. We just didn't buy it as a reunion scene. Actually there was more chemistry between Marzelline and Jaquino in the first scene who were charmingly directed, interacting quite believably whilst folding laundry.

Laurence Mongeau's set comprised simple interlocking rectangular forms embellished with parallel cables stretched to connect. It was Rob Siler's lighting design that created the appropriate atmosphere for each scene.

The theme of "rescue" has stayed with us all night. Leonore rescued Florestan and Opera Lafayette rescued Beethoven's early attempt at creating the Fidelio that occupies a major place in the canon.

© meche kroop

No comments:

Post a Comment