Francesca da Rimini, Metropolitan Opera live cinema relay, 17 March 2013Posted on 17 March 2013
Seeing this opera for the second time in less than three year convinced me that it fills a much-needed gap in the repertoire. Clearly the cuts in London made by Opera Holland Park in 2010 were well judged. But if you’re one of the singers or the conductor or a member of the orchestra it must be hugely enjoyable to perform.
Zandonai’s rich orchestration provides powerful moments, but also some tiresomely melodramatic music for action of a lighter vein. Act I was full of this, with extended passages for Francesca’s ladies in waiting. But full marks to the Met for reviving and screening Piero Faggioni’s beautifully artistic production from 1984 with its glorious costumes, nineteenth century impressionistic backdrop, and art nouveau concept of what the fourteenth century should look like. Ezio Frigerio’s sets, Franca Squarciapino’s costumes, Gil Wechsler’s lighting, and Donald Mahler’s elegantly subdued choreography all worked well, and cinema direction by Gary Halvorson was excellent.
The star role is Francesca, sung here by Eva-Maria Westbroek who remarked in the intermission that this sort of story is still going on in the world today. She is quite right. A girl is married to a man she doesn’t love, while being in love with someone else. She arranges clandestine meetings with her lover, and the family kills the two of them. Francesca is in love with the fair Paolo, whom she once believed was to be her husband. In fact it’s his malformed brother, Gianciotto, and the insane jealousy of the third brother, Maletestino brings a denouément in which Gianciotto kills both his wife Francesca and his brother Paolo.
As Paolo, Marcello Giordani evidently relished the role from a poetic point of view, according to his intermission interview, but in Act I he sounded strained on the high notes, though he warmed up considerably in Act II. Eva-Maria Westbroek as Francesca sang and acted with dramatic power, but lacked a more nuanced portrayal that might suggest character development. It was perhaps easier for Mark Delavan and Robert Brubaker as the more one-dimensional characters Gianciotto and Maletestino, and both sang with great conviction. Fine solo appearance in Act I by Philip Horst as Francesca’s scheming brother Ostasio, and Ginger Costa-Jackson sang a beautiful mezzo as Francesca’s confidante Smaragdi.
She sings of potions, and appears in Act III as a Brangaene-like character to Francesca’s Isolde, but this opera’s eclectic allusions to Tristan und Isolde, and Lancelot and Guinevere, along with the musical resonances with Strauss and Puccini, weaken it and obscure any creative focus. There were lovely moments however, such as the kiss at the end of Act III, where Francesca’s costume and body language mirrored the 1895 painting Flaming June by Frederic Leighton. Eva-Maria Westbroek sang a fine prayer in Act IV, and the sudden ending with two brothers left standing while Francesca and Paolo lie dead was a coup de theâtre.
Plenty of tension from the orchestra under Marco Armiliato, and thank you to the Met for a production so fine that I shall never feel the need to see this opera again. In the intermission features, Sondra Radvanovsky told Marcello Giordani that he had performed 27 operas at the Met, and gushingly asked if this was his favorite. He answered diplomatically, unlike a singer in a previous opera who responded less charitably to one of her questions.