There is little of this prolific composer's output available to us, so anything is welcome and this recording of Paër's Leonora particularly so.
In the 1804 libretto by Giuseppe Foppa, he describes the story as "historical episode from recent history". He based it on a French play Léonore that was greatly appreciated in 1798 after the Reign of Terror. The libretto was also used by Mayr and Beethoven, both in 1805; though Beethoven's final version Fidelio was rewritten and produced to much greater acclaim in 1814.
It is of the genre known as the 'Rescue Opera', particularly popular in in France after the Revolution, and one where the hero or heroine finds themselves in a seemingly impossible situation but then is spectacularly rescued.
The names of Paër and Mayr, though unfamiliar to us now, would have been very familiar to Beethoven and he is known to have had a copy of Paër's Leonora which undoubtedly left an enduring impression. By 1804, Paër was an experienced opera composer with Leonora being his twenty-seventh with some twenty or so to follow.
There are many differences between Paër's Leonora and Beethoven's, not least Paër's use of Italian giving entirely different effects of melodic rhythm and flow of the music. Here also we see a composer of the Neapolitan school using more coloratura in the style of his contemporary Cherubini.
Alessandro Marchi's delightful interpretation of this opera with the Innsbruck Festival orchestra and a group of fine singers is strongly recommended to any lover of early 19th century opera.
Reviewer: Paul Foss