Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Anna Netrebko, now a dramatic soprano, shines in the Met’s dark and murky ‘Macbeth’

The former lyric soprano holds up well — and survives the intrusive close-up camerawork of the ‘Live in HD’ transmission

Arizona Opera Presents First Mariachi Opera

Houston Grand Opera commissioned Cruzar la Cara de la Luna from composer José “Pepe” Martínez, music director of Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán, who wrote the text together with Broadway and opera director Leonard Foglia. The work had its world premier in 2010. Since then, it has traveled to several cities including Paris, Chicago, and San Diego.

Plácido Domingo: I due Foscari, London

“Why should I go to hear Plácido Domingo” someone said when Verdi’s I due Foscari was announced by the Royal Opera House. There are very good reasons for doing so.

Philip Glass’s The Trial

Music Theatre Wales presented the world premiere of Philip Glass’s The Trial (Kafka) last night at the Linbury, Royal Opera House. Music Theatre Wales started doing Glass in 1989. Their production of Glass’s In the Penal Colony in 2010 was such a success that Glass conceived The Trial specially for the company.

Joyce DiDonato: Alcina, Barbican, London

To say that the English Concert’s performance of Handel’s Alcina at the Barbican on 10 October 2014 was hotly anticipated would be an understatement. Sold out for weeks, the performance capitalised on the draw of its two principals Joyce DiDonato and Alice Coote and generated the sort of buzz which the work did at its premiere.

A New Don Giovanni and Anniversary at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago opened its sixtieth anniversary season with a new production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni directed by Artistic Director of the Goodman Theater, Robert Falls.

Grande messe des morts, LSO

It was a little over two years ago that I heard Sir Colin Davis conduct the Berlioz Requiem in St Paul’s Cathedral; it was the last time I heard — or indeed saw — him conduct his beloved and loving London Symphony Orchestra.

Guillaume Tell, Welsh National Opera

Part of their Liberty or Death season along with Rossini’s Mose in Egitto and Bizet’s Carmen, Welsh National Opera performed David Pountney’s new production of Rossini’s Guillaume Tell (seen 4 October 2014).

Mose in Egitto, Welsh National Opera

Welsh National Opera’s production of Rossini’s Mose in Egitto was the second of two Rossini operas (the other is Guillaume Tell) performed in tandem for their autumn tour.

L’incoronazione di Poppea, Barbican Hall

In Monteverdi’s first Venetian opera, Il Ritorno d’Ulisse (1641), Penelope’s patient devotion as she waits for the return of her beloved Ulysses culminates in the triumph of love and faithfulness; in contrast, in L’incoronazione di Poppea it is the eponymous Queen’s lust, passion and ambition that prevail.

Rameau’s Les Paladins, Wigmore Hall

After the triumphs of love, the surprises: Les Paladins, under their director Jérôme Correas, and soprano Sandrine Piau are following their tour of material from their 2011 CD, ‘Le Triomphe de L’amour’, with a new amatory arrangement.

Puccini : The Girl of the Golden West, ENO London

At the ENO, Puccini's La fanciulla del West becomes The Girl of the Golden West. Hearing this opera in English instead of Italian has its advantages, While we can still hear the exotic, Italianate Madama Butterfly fantasies in the orchestra, in English, we're closer to the original pot-boiler melodrama. Madama Biutterfly is premier cru: The Girl of the Golden West veers closer, at times, to hokum. The new ENO production gets round the implausibility of the plot by engaging with its natural innocence.

Anna Caterina Antonacci, Wigmore Hall, London

Presenting a well-structured and characterful programme, Italian soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci demonstrated her prowess in both soprano and mezzo repertoire in this Wigmore Hall recital, performing European works from the early years of the twentieth century. Assuredly accompanied by her regular pianist Donald Sulzen, Antonacci was self-composed and calm of manner, but also evinced a warmly engaging stage presence throughout.

Il barbiere di Siviglia, Royal Opera

Bold, bright and brash, Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier’s Il barbiere di Siviglia tells its story clearly in complementary primary colours.

Gluck and Bertoni at Bampton

Bampton Classical Opera’s 2014 double bill neatly balanced drollery and gravity. Rectifying the apparent prevailing indifference to the 300th centenary of Christoph Willibald Gluck birth, Bampton offered a sharp, witty production of the composer’s Il Parnaso confuso, pairing this ‘festa teatrale’ with Ferdinando Bertoni’s more sombre Orfeo.

Purcell: A Retrospective

Harry Christophers and The Sixteen Choir and Orchestra launched the Wigmore Hall’s two-year series, ‘Purcell: A Retrospective’, in splendid style. Flexibility, buoyancy and transparency were the watchwords.

Mahler: Symphony no.3 — Prom 73

It would be unfair, but one could summarise this concert with the words, ‘Senator, you’re no Leonard Bernstein.’

Los Angeles Opera Opens with La traviata

On September 13, Los Angeles Opera opened its 2014-2015 season with a revival of Marta Domingo’s updated, Art Deco staging of Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata. It starred Nino Machaidze as Violetta, Arturo Chácon-Cruz as Alfredo, and Plácido Domingo as Giorgio Germont. The conductor was Music Director James Conlon.

Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, 2014

In its annual concert previewing the forthcoming season Lyric Opera of Chicago presented its “Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park” during the past weekend to a large audience of enthusiastic listeners.

Susannah in San Francisco

Come to think of it the 1950‘s were operatically rich years in America compared to other decades in the recent past. Just now the San Francisco Opera laid bare an example, Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Eva-Maria Westbroek as Francesca da Rimini [Photo by Marty Sohl/ Metropolitan Opera]
19 Mar 2013

Francesca da Rimini at the Met

Sets and costumes are gorgeous and the singing is good, but the libretto’s slow and continuously interrupted dramatic action grows tiresome

Francesca da Rimini at the Met

A review by David Rubin

Above: Eva-Maria Westbroek as Francesca da Rimini

Photos by Marty Sohl/ Metropolitan Opera

 

Ricardo Zandonai’s 1914 opera Francesca da Rimini is a one-act potboiler buried in a four-act sarcophagus.

The opera tells a simple, lurid story of lust and infidelity, drawn from Dante’s Inferno and a play by the poet Gabriele D’Annunzio.

Poor Francesca is married off, for political reasons, to the lame and ugly Giovanni Malatesta, although she thinks she is going to be marrying his handsome brother, Paolo. When Paolo confesses his love for her, they cheat on Giovanni. The affair is discovered by Giovanni’s younger brother, Malatestino, a one-eyed weasel, who tips off Giovanni. The inevitable then occurs as Giovanni kills both Francesca and Paolo after catching them in the act.

Zandonai’s teacher Mascagni could have turned this tale into a terrific one-act companion piece to his Cavalleria Rusticana. But Zandonai and his librettist Tito Ricordi (Verdi’s music publisher) larded the tale with all sorts of extraneous business that slows down the dramatic arc and blunts its violence. In this case truly half would have been twice as good.

The libretto has all sorts of obvious dramatic problems. Paolo appears at the end of Act 1 but never sings, merely locking eyes and fingers with Francesca. The villains Giovanni and Malatestino don’t appear until Act 2, and then disappear in Act 3 entirely. Neither has a role that is fully fleshed out. Indeed, only the mooning Francesca seems to have captivated Ricordi and Zandonai. The action is repeatedly interrupted by unnecessary paeans to the arrival of spring or choral giggling from Francesca’s handmaidens.

Were Zandonai a more skillful composer he might have sustained a four-act treatment, but his strengths are as an orchestrator and a provider of special musical effects. He can also whip up a huge noise from the orchestra with climax after climax, which I guess is not such a bad idea given the theme of this opera. But such repeated climaxes get old quickly.

Francesca_2544-s.gifMarcello Giordani as Paolo il Bello and Eva-Maria Westbroek as Francesca da Rimini

John C. G. Waterhouse, writing in the New Grove Dictionary of Opera, accurately took Zandonai’s measure as a composer, noting his “judicious borrowings from Strauss and Debussy.” His strongest virtue is conveying a sense of atmosphere. Met Conductor Fabio Armiliato, interviewed during one of the three intermissions, tossed in Wagner, Cilea, Mascagni and Puccini as other influences. All can be heard flitting in and out of the score. While Zandonai is quite skillful at word setting, his music is without personality of its own.

Zandonai writes in sentences, while Puccini and Strauss write in pages and Wagner writes in whole chapters. Just as one thinks a real melody with some development is about to start, Zandonai changes direction. The duet for Paolo and Francesca in Act 3, when they finally consummate their love, cries out for a Manon Lescaut moment. It never comes. All the tension in the final scene, when Francesca and Paolo are murdered, is bled out of it with an interminable opening exchange between Francesca and her ladies in waiting. When Giovanni finally arrives to stab her, it’s all slam bang. Zandonai had Verdi’s Otello as a model for this murder, but he seems to have learned nothing from it.

With an eight-month season, the Met has many slots to fill. This production is the first revival of the original, mounted 27 years ago for Placido Domingo in the role of Paolo and Renata Scotto as Francesca. The production — by Piero Faggioni with sets by Ezio Frigerio and costumes by Franca Squarciapino — is a beauty. It almost justifies ticket prices north of $250. Francesca’s various gowns have the silhouette of a 14th century Italian woman of means, but the embroidery is pre-Raphaelite. Every stage picture could have walked off the walls of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Every character is in a period costume of exquisite color and detail. While the ears may have been bored, the eyes never were, particularly in the close-ups of the HD telecast.

Soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek and tenor Marcello Giordani were the illicit lovers. Both have large voices and had no trouble with the notes, although both are short on vocal allure. Westbroek never projected the vulnerability and fragility Francesca must embody if one is to care about her grim fate.

The villains were a lot more fun. Baritone Mark Delavan was a nasty Giovanni, with a booming bottom but slightly constricted top. Tenor Robert Brubaker (soon to be singing Mime in the Met’s spring Ring) made Malatestino a leering pervert with dead-on intonation.

Of the smaller roles, mezzo Ginger Costa-Jackson stood out as Francesca’s slave Smaragdi, a role written for contralto.

Marco Armiliato, conducting the opera for the first time, moved it along well and supported the singers generously. The Met Orchestra seemed to relish wallowing in this aural soup.

Tchaikovsky took a shot at the Francesca story in his orchestral fantasy of the same name. In just 26 minutes he manages to say all that need be said, capturing the frenzy and passion of the story in a way Zandonai never does. His surging theme for the lovers has already knocked out of my head everything Zandonai wrote for them.

Only 40 or so people attended this performance at Destiny USA’s Regal Theater in Syracuse, many fewer than usual. Perhaps the Met is offering too many of these telecasts. Perhaps the novelty is wearing off. Perhaps the audience is tired of the relentless close-ups and quick cuts. Or perhaps the audience is just too smart to waste four hours and $24 on this third-rate work.

David Rubin


Click here for cast and production information.

This review first appeared at CNY Café Momus. It is reprinted with the author's permission.

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):