Francesca da Rimini, Metropolitan Opera live cinema relay, 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.

All images MetOpera/ Marty Sohl

All images MetOpera/ Marty Sohl

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.

A Rosenkavalier moment

A Rosenkavalier moment

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.

Smaragdi and Francesca

Smaragdi and Francesca

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.

Gianciotto, Malatestino, Paolo

Gianciotto, Malatestino, Paolo

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.

One Response to “Francesca da Rimini, Metropolitan Opera live cinema relay, 17 March 2013”

  1. Timothy Gooddy says:

    I was pleased to read a review of Francesca that has some good things to say about the work. It is not an unqualified masterpiece and Zandonai is not a great composer, but I have loved the opera for years on the strength of audio and video recordings. I have never had the opportunity to see it on the stage (to my great annoyance I did not know about the Holland Park production till it was too late). The opinion of the Daily Telegraph critic who did go to Holland Park that Francesca was “appalling drivel” made me wonder if my taste was seriously misguided, and I see that the New York Times critic said that the question about the current revival there was why anyone there had thought it was worthwhile to dig up the production after 27 years. Stupid man! I think that the question is why they let the magnificent set and costumes moulder in a container for decades (particularly as they must have cost a gigantic sum of money). As a conservative old fogey, I love to see an opera set in the period intended by the composer and librettist – for me modern updatings almost always ruin my enjoyment – I do not know whether to laugh or cry at the news that the Festival in my home city of Edinburgh is to offer us Fidelio set in a “doomed spaceship”. I know that the music is the main thing, but Francesca is gorgeous to look at. They even managed to find slender young women for Francesca’s attendants who were really quite pretty even in the close ups of the film (and they could sing too). The musical performance was excellent overall, and I found that at the end of Act 3 I was so carried away by the beauty and power of the duet as Francesca and Paolo finally overcome their inhibitions that my whole body had unconsciously become tense. I enjoyed it so much that I am going to the repeat performance tomorrow.

    I have probably rambled on too long, but in conclusion a technical point: It may just have been the sound system in the cinema, but I felt that the balance favoured the singers too much over the orchestra; there were details of Zandonai’s marvellous orchestration in the delicate passages that did not come over well.

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