PaerAt the end of July the Caramoor Festival will present Fidelio, one of my favorite operas and one which has been absent from the Met for over a decade (although it returns next spring.) “Trove Thursday” over the next weeks presents two works deeply connected to Beethoven’s moving masterpiece: first, Ferdinando Paër’s 1804 Leonora ossia L’Amore coniugale conducted by its great champion Peter Maag and featuring Ursula Koszut, Krisztina Laki and Renzo Casellato

Paër (1771-1839) was an extremely prolific composer whose 55 (!) operas premiered all over Europe, but he’s known (if at all) primarily for his Fidelio precursor Leonora, a dramma semiseria which premiered in Dresden where he was composer-in-residence for several years. Leonora was in turn was based on Pierre Gaveaux’s 1798 Léonore ou L’Amour conjugal, one of a number of popular French “rescue operas” in vogue at the time, the best-known being Cherubini’s Lodoïska and Les Deux Journées.

While he was in Dresden, Paër encountered Napoleon who admired his music greatly and who brought him to Paris where he become conductor of the Théâtre-Italien in 1812 succeeding Spontini. He held the post there for over a decade until he retired and Rossini took his place.

Koszut’s career was centered in Stuttgart where her repertoire included dramatic coloratura roles like the Queen of the Night and Konstanze, Paër’s Leonora became a bit of a speciality; in addition to this RAI performance, the Polish soprano also recorded the opera for Decca with Maag who led the work regularly during the 70s and early 80s. The commercial recording features Siegfried Jerusalem as Florestano and a pre-Miss Havisham Edita Gruberová as Marcellina.

I prefer this version over the Decca because of the Marcellina of Laki, a lovely Hungarian soprano who made a number of recordings with conductor Sigiswald Kuijken that I admire greatly, including a delightful Die Schöpfung and Partenope in which Laki’s sparkling Queen of Naples remains one of my favorite Handel portrayals ever.

Those familiar with Beethoven’s version may be startled to discover that in Leonora Florestano, Pizarro and Fernando are all tenors! Paër’s opera is occasionally still revived: a 2000 production in Winterthur starred a young Jonas Kaufmann as Florestano and it provided one of our earliest examples of his singing.

Paër: LEONORA ossia L’amore coniugale
Milano, RAI
20 May 1979 Broadcast
Leonora: Ursula Koszut
Marcellina: Krisztina Laki
Florestano: Renzo Casellato
Pizarro: Tullio Pane
Fernando: Ezio Di Cesare
Rocco: Giorgio Tadeo
Giacchino: Giancarlo Luccardi

Conductor: Peter Maag

Another Fidelio-related opera will arrive in two weeks, but in the meantime “Trove Thursday” offerings can be downloaded via the audio-player above. Just click on the icon of a square with an arrow pointing downward and the resulting mp3 file will appear in your download directory.

In addition, Leonora, last week’s Bolshoi Onegin and all previous fare remain available from iTunes or via any RSS reader.