16 Oct 2007


Mirella Freni’s 1993 triumph in the lead of Umberto Giordani’s Fedora at La Scala has made it to DVD. In his booklet essay, Werner Pfister (translated by Stewart Spencer) admits the opera “does not enjoy the best of reputations.”

After making it straight-faced through a synopsis of the insubstantial yet overly complex narrative, Pfister sums up with this: “Above all, however, Fedora is an extremely effective stage vehicle for a prima donna.”

The irony of that lies in the fact that Fedora’s main claim to operatic fame today comes from its central tenor aria, “Amor ti Vieta.“ Without that “big tune,” no one might care at all what sort of vehicle the opera made for a soprano. Basically, the story gives the soprano reason to fret and wring her hands for three acts before drinking poison. In Paris, Fedora’s lover is shot, and she identifies his killer as Count Loris. However, he offers an explanation that mollifies her (seems her lover was cheating on her with Loris’s wife). She falls in love with the Count, but not before identifying him to his political enemies. They go after his family, and he announces that he will seek out the woman who set his enemies on his trail. In despair, Fedora admits it was herself, and drinks poison, dying in Loris’s arms.

Giordano has ample opportunity for melodramatic inspiration in Arturo Colautti’s libretto. Neither character is very sympathetic, unfortunately, and the supporting cast is thin on interest or even relevance to the plot. This is an opera done fair recompense to its quality by having it live on in the 3 minute encore for tenor recitals that “Amor ti vieta” provides.

The La Scala DVD still makes for a mildly enjoyable wallow, with its old-fashioned backdrop sets by Luisa Spinatelli, idiomatic conducting by Gianandrea Gavazzeni, and Freni singing gloriously. She has Placido Domingo for her Loris, and his tasteful “Amor ti Vieta” earns a substantial ovation, though some listeners may join your reviewer in wishing for a more visceral delivery. Alessandro Corbelli hams it up delightfully in his rather pointless little scene.

This Fedora serves as a reminder that some operas live on the outskirts of the standard repertory because they really don't fit in when they make it into town.

Chris Mullins