Lodoïska, performed in Paris in 1791, is sometimes cited as a model for Fidelio. The setting is 17th-century Poland. Count Floreski is searching for Lodoïska, who is being held against her will at Dourlinski’s castle. He finds her but is himself imprisoned. Both are saved by a band of Tartars led by Dourlinski’s enemy, Titzikan. Beethoven was certainly a great admirer of Cherubini but Lodoïska seems to me to have more in common with Die Entführung. Dourlinski and Pasha Selim are in love with their respective captives; and though Dourlinski doesn’t show the magnanimity of the latter, he is no Don Pizarro. Both operas include a comic servant, and the lovers face death in the same key of B flat.
Cherubini’s score is full of good things. There’s a polonaise in which the vocal lines for Varbel and Floreski, first heard in succession, are combined for the third stanza. The action moves forward in symphonically developed ensembles and ‘chain’ finales: Berlioz must surely have had in mind the quickfire exchange of phrases between heroine, master and servant in Act 1 when he came to write the comic trio in Benvenuto Cellini. The harmony is adventurous and the orchestration a delight. Lodoïska’s ‘Hélas! Dans ce cruel asile’ is accompanied by flutes, horns and muted strings without double basses. Elsewhere, the clarinet-writing is handled with a confidence that Haydn might have envied.
The cast, made up almost entirely of native French speakers, is pretty good. Floreski and Titzikan are both tenors but the former part is written in the alto clef, signifying an haute-contre. Sébastien Guèze has the right kind of lightness, just managing to avoid crooning in the canonic section of the Act 2 finale. Philippe Do, appropriately heroic, in turn just gets away with his top C at the end of ‘Triomphons avec noblesse’. Nathalie Manfrino is splendidly passionate in Lodoïska’s second air, where Cherubini’s vigorous music belies the pleading of the words. The Varbel and Dourlinski are fine but yield in characterisation to Alessandro Corbelli and William Shimell for Muti: a set I commend also for its fuller spoken dialogue and greater provision of separate tracks. Jérémie Rhorer and his period-instrument band are exemplary.