A thrilling, high energy rescue opera, Lodoiska by Cherubini is an early triumph in French heroic opera that inspired many after it, Beethoven and his Fidelio being the most famous example. Cherubini fits quite comfortably between Gretry and Auber as the torch bearer of French opera in one of those transitional holes in music history; in this case, bridging the mid classical style to its late, heroic phase.
The narrative is a rescue adventure wherein Floreski is in search of his missing love Lodoiska who is being held by the villainous Dourlinski at a large castle in the Polish countryside. There are narrative symmetries and contrasts between Floreski and his servant Varbel to that of Dourlinski and his henchman Altamoras. The heroic couple espouse friendship and mutual concern while the terrible Dourlinski and Altamoras exhibit base desire and malevolent cunning. Love, friendship and their contemptuous counterparts are at the heart of this opera and rest on a pulsing beast of orchestration by the masterly Cherubini.
This is defiantly one of the more exciting entries in the heroic genre with a significant battle scene in the last act that would have made quite the impact on audiences of the day. The energy and pacing in the music slowly builds the drama number by number with a rich diversity of air's, duets, ensembles, and finales. Cherubini's ensemble writing is superb and contains the majority of the opera's dramatic moments instead of relegating it to the dialogue. Each character is fleshed out and characterized well by the orchestration; so too is the action within the ensembles with an effortlessness that vaguely brings Mozart to mind.
The melodies themselves aren't outright catchy like those from "Les Deux Journées" and, for me at least, this is where the opera suffers. To Cherubini's credit, he counteracts this issue with orchestration that is perfectly enmeshed with the text and gives the opera a feeling of overall wholeness that numbered opera rarely achieves.
The performances are good, the voices light and the orchestra colourful and well conducted. The tempi are a little flat in that only three options seemed available: slow, moderate, fast. Fortunately, the moderate and fast tempi keep the pace of the narrative moving and uphold the opera's heroic atmosphere.
The provided booklet package is top notch with lots of reading and background information on both the composer, his times and the opera itself. The libretto is provided in the original French with an English and Italian translation while the scholarly material is in French and English. I highly recommend "Lodoiska" to fans of Cherubini or Beethoven and especially to those who love this special period in music history.