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Paer: Leonora

Paer / Koszut / Bavarian Sym Orch / Maag
Release Date: 02/19/2013 
Label:  Eloquence   Catalog #: 4804859   Spars Code: DDD 
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

PAER Leonora Peter Maag, cond; Ursula Koszut ( Leonora ); Siegfried Jerusalem ( Florestano ); Giorgio Tadeo ( Rocco ); Edita Gruberová ( Marcelina ); Wolfgang Brendel ( Giacchino ); Norbert Orth ( Don Pizarro ); John van Kesteren Read more ( Don Fernando ); Bavarian SO DECCA ELOQUENCE 480 4859 (2 CDs: 153:31 Text and Translation)

"Writing about Ferdinando Paer’s Leonora , Peter Maag, who revived the opera and led its first (and so far, only) recording had this to say: “While this Leonora will always live in the shadow of Fidelio , it nevertheless deserves to be made known to the specialist musical public…Those who do know and love Fidelio are in for a strange experience when they renew acquaintance with the familiar characters in Pizarro’s prison illuminated by entirely different music.” Entirely different is correct. Although Beethoven and Paer were contemporaries and the earliest version of Fidelio appeared only a year after the premiere of Paer’s opera, they have only their basic plot in common for, while Beethoven used the story to make a statement about loyalty, courage, and justice, Paer used it as a vehicle for some spectacular arias and clever ensembles. Fidelio , with its spoken dialog, moves along directly and swiftly; Leonora , with its recitatives and elaborate vocal style (reminiscent of, say, Cimarosa or Paisiello, even Mozart at times) moves more deliberately. He apparently was very proficient with a flair for melody and an instinct for what would work in the theater, at least with the audiences of his time. Nowadays, his auditors, accustomed to later operas, might get restless at the relatively leisurely pace of Paer’s if Leonora can be taken as typical. Paer was born in 1771, the year after Beethoven, and lived until 1839. He seems to have had a knack of landing on his feet for he was appointed to important positions throughout his life. A few years after Leonora , his 37th opera of 55 (!), he ended up in the employ of Napoleon and moved to Paris, where he spent the rest of his life, doing well enough after the Bourbon restoration and later, after their overthrow, working for King Louis-Philippe.

Several composers wrote operas on the Leonora/Fidelio story but the only one that still holds the stage is Beethoven’s. Leonora is written in a style described as semiserio , basically a serious opera with a strong dose of lighter music and/or comic relief (think of Don Giovanni ). Unlike Beethoven, Paer devotes a lot of space to Marzelline (I’ll use the Fidelio names), whose part is laced with fancy coloratura and is almost as long and difficult as Leonora’s. Whereas she plays almost no part late in Beethoven’s opera, Paer not only spends a lot of time with her and Jacquino but brings her back for more fancy singing toward the end. In Leonora , Don Fernando and Don Pizarro are sung by tenors and Jacquino by a baritone. There’s no prisoners chorus and act II takes place in its entirety in the dungeon. There are a few other minor changes: Leonora deceives Marzelline until the last pages of the opera; Don Fernando orders that Pizarro be put into Florestan’s chains; Pizarro plans to murder Rocco and Fidelio to ensure his safety, but it’s still the same basic plot. Some of the arias are quite spectacular and some of the ensembles are brilliant, especially when Leonore and Marzelline join forces. Obviously, there’s not much point in reviving an opera like this unless you have singers who can handle its difficulties. Maag edited Leonora for the revival but, if he simplified it, enough vocal obstacles remained to test anyone’s technique and this cast does the job. Given that there is no competing recording, this is, needless to say, a good thing. Speaking of which, while Eloquence normally doesn’t provide librettos under the sensible assumption that a purchaser probably has access to one, this package includes an Italian-English libretto for Paer’s opera under the equally sensible assumption that a purchaser probably doesn’t have access to one…unless this set is a replacement for the LPs."

FANFARE: James Miller
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