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01 Dec 2008
Alberto Cantù's booklet essay for the Dynamic release of Umberto Giordano's rare one-act opera Marcella quotes a review from the day after the 1907 premiere, which indicates that the premiere's audience's expectations of "greater originality of melodic invention" went unmet.
In Timothy Alan Shaw’s translation (not always smooth), Cantù goes on to note that Marcella came in the “final phases of [Giordano’s] creativity” - though the composer would live until 1948.
Although Puccini would go on to write more masterpieces, from La Fanciulla del West to Turandot, by 1907 much of the great Italian operatic tradition had become tired and formulaic. Giordano’s Marcella isn’t bad; some parts of the score, especially the orchestral sections such as the prelude to the last of the three episodes, are quite attractive. But the predictability of the musical language and dramatic situations drains any life from the proceedings.
In the opening scene for ensemble, set in a Parisian restaurant, a prince rescues a woman of the streets being pursued by obscurely motivated ruffians. The two fall in love, and in the second episode they are living in bliss in the country when a visitor from the prince’s country comes to tell him he must return home to save his country. In the third episode, they share (and we endure) their sad farewell to each other. Bits of operas from Manon Lescaut to La Traviata and any number of others can be discerned in this threadbare scenario.
Dynamic’s live August 2007 recording from the Martina Franca Festival might still make a case for giving Marcella an occasional listen if the two singers in the leads had more to offer. As the title character, Serena Daolio seems to always be just about ready to slip off the note, or slide up into it. Her lines also tend to trail off into breathy exhalations. Danilo Formaggia’s big, blustery tenor, in the role of Giorgio, provides volume for passion. Their final duet faintly echoes the great climax to Giordano’s greatest work, Andrea Chenier. Conductor Manilo Benzi and the Orchestra Internazionale d’Italia do an excellent job with the best Giordano’s score has to offer, a varied and colorful orchestral fabric.