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Fanning Revolutionary Fires:  Cherubini's 'Lodoiska'

Music has always been a telling reflection of the culture in which it's created. Musical styles and trends, individual songs -- and yes, operas -- have often become emblematic of entire eras and generations.

In the counterculture era of the 1960's certain songs grew to the status of anthems, including "Aquarius" -- as in "the age of" -- which took to the stage in the musical Hair and hit the charts thanks to The Fifth Dimension. Bob Dylan contributed another '60s anthem with "The Times They Are a-Changin'." The disco '70's saw the Bee Gees with "Stayin' Alive."

When it comes to opera, there's one famous tune by Verdithat became a sort of unofficial, Italian national anthem. His chorus "Va pensiero," from the opera Nabucco, is sung by exiled Hebrews dreaming of their homeland. In 19th-century Italy it became a rallying cry for the "Risorgimento" movement -- the drive to free Italy from foreign domination and unite its states in a single, independent nation. And about 50 years before Verdi's Nabucco, music by another Italian opera composer, working in France, became the accompaniment for a revolution.

At first glance, the story of Luigi Cherubini's Lodoiska hardly seems the stuff of historic upheaval. Set in 17th-century Poland, the plot involves a somewhat inept young knight who tries to liberate his captive fiancé, and needs a lot of help along the way.

But in revolution era France, its story of an innocent couple, separated by tyranny and reunited by the power of a just cause, hit a powerful chord. Eventually it helped to spawn an entire genre, known as "rescue opera," and after its Paris premiere in 1791, Lodoiska ran for some 200 performances, becoming the longest running French opera of the decade.

On World of Opera, host Lisa Simeonepresents Cherubini's now rarely performed opera in a production from the Auditorium Parco della Musica in Rome. The stars are tenor Sébastien Guèze as Floreski, the would-be hero; soprano Nathalie Manfrino as Lodoiska, the fiancé he's out to save; and tenor Phillippe Do as Titzikan, the daring Tartar warrior who comes to their rescue in a blaze of glory and sends the villain to a fiery downfall.

See the previous edition of World of Opera or the full archive

Copyright 2011 WDAV

Bruce Scott
Bruce Scott is supervising producer of World of Opera. He also produces NPR's long-running, annual special Chanukah Lights, with Susan Stamberg and Murray Horwitz.