Opera Lafayette has released an interesting video of Beethoven’s 1806 Leonore which made one think of how advantageous it is for painters to use the technique known as pentimento to literally repent over something already finished and paint over the previous work. Unfortunately Beethoven could only take his 1806 Leonore and start over again and rewrite what he had already penned. Thus he gave us an early and a final version of his one and only opera, the ultimately titled Fidelio.
Much to our delight Opera Lafayette has meticulously researched and brought back the 1806 Leonore in a fine production filmed in March of 2020 at the Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College. The results are very good, starting with a dramatically and vocally capable cast that brings to vivid life characters that in lesser hands often come off as woodenly uninteresting. The seven principal roles are filled with young singers with essentially lyric, mid-weight voices that heard in the confines of a 600 -plus seat house more than suffice to serve the demands of their assignments.
As Florestan Canadian tenor Jean Michel Richer acquits himself well in the earlier and less brutally taxing version of the Gott! Welch Dunkel hier! scena that opens the third act of the opera. Bass-baritone Stephen Hegedus is vocally just right for the part of the fatherly Rocco, and Keven Geddes is comically ingratiating as Jacquino. Equipped with just the right amount of stamina and biting snarl Matthew Scollin is a maleficent Pizarro, delivering a riveting Ha! Welch ein Augenblick! Bass Alexandre Sylvestre is a sonorous and dignified Don Fernando.
Lyric soprano Pascale Boudin is visually pretty and vocally splendid in the usually easy to ignore part of Marzelline. In an unpredictable bit of casting Nathalie Paulin, a soprano whose repertoire encompasses mostly lighter soprano roles is here the very fine Leonore, bringing the right mix of vocal heft, pathos and nobility to the part of the heroic wife in male disguise. She sings the just as difficult if not more so 1806 version of the iconic act I aria with commitment and suppleness, then to return in act III with impressive results in the five numbers that lead to the moving duet with Florestan and the triumphant finale.
Opera Lafayette’s Artistic Director Ryan Brown leads the company’s excellent orchestra and 16 member chorus with complete authority and sensitive awareness of the musical and vocal needs of his singers. The physically uncomplicated production is well directed by Oriol Tomas, who keeps his talented cast from indulging in any operatic posturing.
Rafael de Acha