Paër’s Leonora @ Innsbrucker Festwochen der alten Musik

Ferdinando Paër belongs to the group of composers between Mozart and Rossini which include Cimarosa, Paisiello, Mayr and many others, and who are today largely forgotten. Only very few rediscoveries are recorded on disc, and even fewer presented on stage. Which is a pity because Paër has no fewer requisites than any other belcanto composer of his time to keep listeners firmly in their seats: a fresh and melodic style, dramatic musical numbers, a rich instrumentation which also requires instrumentalists to accompany arias in the most varied fashion. A composer I would wish to hear and see much more frequently. In his time he was very well known, receiving engagements as theatre director or court composer, succeeding Spontini at the Theâtre Italien in Paris after Napoleon heard his Achille in Dresden. In Dresden Paër presented also his Leonora which was staged by the Innsbrucker Festwochen der alten Musik. Due to Covid the opera was not really staged but given in concert version with minimal movements and props. The plot is basically the same as Beethoven’s Fidelio: Leonora, disguised as a man enters Rocco’s prison where her husband Florestano is unjustly held. In the process Marcellina falls in love with her, awaking her wooer Giacchino’s jealously. When the minister Fernando arrives to town, Florestano’s enemy Don Pizarro wants Rocco to murder Florestano but the opera ends happily thanks also to a Marcellina who has a much bigger role than in Beethoven’s homonymous opera.

The delightful music is interpreted by an inspired Alessandro de Marchi with crisp tempi. The orchestra responds quite well with well-played solos. The reunited cast is excellent and I think everyone deserves praise. I much enjoyed Carlo Allemano, in fact I found him more at ease with Paër’s style than in Mercadante’s opera a few years ago. Excellent also Eleonora Bellocci which I much enjoyed in a small role in Bad Wildbad. I am happy to see her in a role which shows her talent much better. In the title’s role she is able to show her excellent technical preparation and her aria in act I was wonderfully interpreted showing different emotions using an ample, flexible and well projected voice. Marie Lys was a new name to me but a wonderful surprise. Her coloratura voice was coupled with expressive phrasing and the two soprano voices merged wonderfully in the several passages in which Paër blesses us with two female voices duetting. Paolo Fanale as the unfortunate Florestano shows a wide range of colours; in the wonderful aria which opens act II he moves with expressive phrasing, playing with dynamics, a reasonably good coloratura and a refined stage presence. Renato Girolami and Luigi de Donato complete the cast and both sing with homogenous voices and noticeable musical preparation.

Conductor-Alessandro De Marchi, mise en espace-Mariame Clément, Leonora-Eleonora Bellocci, Florestano-Paolo Fanale, Rocco-Carlo Allemano, Marcellina-Marie Lys, Giachino-Luigi De Donato, Don Pizzarro- Renato Girolami, Don Fernando-Kresimir Spicer. Innsbruck, 11th August 2020, photos by Brigitte Duftner

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