An orchestra is a magnificent thing. That certainly was my feeling during Pierre Gaveaux’s opening overture for Leonore, ou L’Amour du conjugal. Thirty-three players and a conductor, each doing their own thing, and yet all working in concert to create something beautiful, an effect greater than the sum of its parts. There is a life lesson there for a world whose music today is certainly not often sweet. After a momentary unsteadiness to get their feet on the ground, this group under Ryan Brown’s direction accelerated and swerved through Mr. Gaveaux’s score like a Maserati negotiating winding roads of the Pyrenees, providing thrills along the way. And what a score it is; not having heard Gaveaux before, I often wondered if I was listening to Mozart. The music did not contribute the complexity or subtlety to the drama as that by Mozart, but it provided the right backdrop and spirit to move the drama along.
Termed an opera comique, Leonore mixes spoken dialog (not recitative) and arias. And it is a great story – Leonore, a young noble woman dresses as a man to infiltrate a prison as an employee in the time of the French Revolution; her goal is to save her husband who is being held as a political prisoner. The title of composer Gaveaux and librettist Jean-Nicolas Bouilly’s opera in English is Leonore or married Love. This story of a heroine and her true love was not only compelling in its time, but remains so today. Gaveaux’s opera was also successful in its day, but has yielded its popularity to Beethoven’s version completed after Gaveaux’s, which he titled Fidelio, Leonore’s name in disguise. A side story of the jailer’s daughter falling in love with Fidelio adds suspenseful and comic touches. There were at least two other opera composers who used the Leonore libretto for their operas, but Beethoven’s has ruled almost completely. Julia Doe’s program notes provide the interesting historical context for the opera. It’s obscurity is a shame. While overall a rather light opera (the conclusion moves very rapidly), I am grateful to Opera Lafayette for the chance to hear Gaveaux’s version, a pleasure all its own..
The singers were an all Canadian cast. First on that stage were Marceline, the jailor’s daughter, sung by soprano Pascale Beaudin, and her long-time suitor Jacquino, sung by tenor Keven Geddes. Both had pleasing voices and sang well, though at first I thought sound volume might be an issue. Both played their parts well and lightened the mood. Marceline’s father, Roc, was played by bass Tomislav Lavoie who projected very well, showing both his personal goodness and his stong attachment to the benefits of his position. Fidelio (Leonore), played by soprano Kimy McLaren, was dressed like a man, befitting her position as key carrier for Roc. Ms. McLaren has a strong, pure soprano voice and made her arias highlights. Villain Pizare was played by baritone Dominique Cote; his acting was very stylized 1800s. Prisoner Floristan, Leonore’s husband, was sung by Jean-Michel Richer, who possesses a very pretty tenor voice. He sang well, though sometimes rather softly. Last of the principals was governor Dom Fernand, played by Alexandre Sylvestre; he was suitably officious and yet touched by the plight of the young couple. Oh, I cannot leave out the chorus which included Andrew Adelsberger, Joseph Baker, Andrew Bearden Brown, Jerry Kavinski, Bradley King, Joseph Regan, Jason Rylander, and Antony Zwerdling. They should take their show on the road as a group. As a group they had a truly beautiful sound; I would come back just to hear them sing more.
One of the benefits of the Leonore story is its happy ending. My wife did not know the story and expected right up to the end that the two lovers would die in each other’s arms in true opera style. And don’t worry about Marcelline. She took the news about Fidelio rather well and quickly turned back to Jacquino. It was interesting to me that Roc had a much more important role than I anticipated. In a way, he was the star. His kind heart, perhaps serving as a proxy for the French spirit saved the day in the end. I am sure that message resonated strongly with audiences of the day. In my report on Opera Lafayette, I noted this company’s commitment to quality. Now, having seen one of their productions, I am sure I will return again, and I will always remember my first Leonore.
Now I (and you) have a rare opportunity. One Leonore is not enough and on March 5 the Washington Concert Opera will perform Beethoven’s Leonore. I will be there. I can’t wait to see the contrast with Gaveaux’s opera. And you know what? Met Opera’s new production of Fidelio will premiere on March 16 for a run at the Lincoln Center in NYC. Could that be in my future also?
Logistics: The tickets to Leonore were a Valentine’s gift from my conjugal love. We had good orchestra seats that cost $100 each. Seat prices for the performance varied from $25 to $130. We could have gone much cheaper and still had excellent seats. The Lisner Auditorium really has no bad seats. From the front of the orchestra seats to the back row of the terrace seats is not that far. However, Lisner also has a larger width to length ratio than most concert halls; so when attending events there, such as the upcoming WCO’s Leonore, try to sit closer to the middle if you can. I also suspect this affects the sound quality.
Photo on left is a quick shot of the orchestra just prior to the performance. Photo on the right is a wide shot of the inside of Lisner Auditorium. Seats in the foreground are the orchestra seats from row A and seats in the rear beginning with the exit coves are the terrace seats. No bad seats.