Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Fortepiano Schubert : Wigmore Hall

The Wigmore Hall complete Schubert song series continued with a recital by Georg Nigl and Andreas Staier. Staier's a pioneer, promoting the use of fortepiano in Schubert song. In Schubert's time, modern concert pianos didn't exist. Schubert and his contemporaries would have been familiar with a lighter, brighter sound. Over the last 30 years, we've come to better understand Schubert and his world through the insights Staier has given us. His many performances, frequently with Christoph Prégardien at the Wigmore Hall, have always been highlights.

MOZART 250: the year 1767

Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 project has reached the year 1767. Two years ago, the company embarked upon an epic, 27-year exploration of the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. The series will incorporate 250th anniversary performances of all Mozart’s important compositions and artistic director Ian Page tells us that as 1767 ‘was the year in which Mozart started to write more substantial works - opera, oratorio, concertos … this will be the first year of MOZART 250 in which Mozart’s own music dominates the programme’.

Monteverdi, Masters and Poets - Imitation and Emulation

‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’

Visionary Wagner - The Flying Dutchman, Finnish National Opera

An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.

Don Quichotte at Chicago Lyric

A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.

Written on Skin: Royal Opera House

800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.

Madama Butterfly at Staatsoper im Schiller Theater

It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more positively about the future of opera.

It’s the end of the world as we know it: Hannigan & Rattle sing of Death

For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer, but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the Threshold”.

A Vocally Extravagant Saturday Night with Berliner Philharmoniker

One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.

Les Troyens at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.

Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock

The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.

A Christmas Festival: La Nuova Musica at St John's Smith Square

Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.

Fleming's Farewell to London: Der Rosenkavalier at the ROH

As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.

Loft Opera’s Macbeth: Go for the Singing, Not the Experience

Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It is that exclusive—you can’t even find the performance!

A clipped Walküre in Amsterdam

Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated drawings fluttering on a giant screen.

A Leonard Bernstein Delight

When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.

An English Winter Journey

Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.

History Repeating Itself: Prokofiev’s Semyon Kotko, Amsterdam Concertgebouw

A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.

L’amour de loin at the Metropolitan Opera

Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.

La finta giardiniera at the Royal College of Music

For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.

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):