Saturday, March 16, 2013

Francesca da Rimini

Riccardo Zandonai
Gabriele D'Annunzio
I was mildly shocked this morning to realize its been thirty years since I stood through four performances of the Met's then new production of Zandonai's Francesca da Rimini. Back then it had been seventy years since the opera was produced in New York, On today's live HD presentation from the Met, commentators and artists alike spoke with admiration of the video from that 1983 production. I guess they are all too young to have seen it 'live.' The thought gave me a bit of a chill.

Today's performance did not. I loved it and accept its flaws. Was it Sondra Radvanovsky who said "There's nobody like Zandonai." I agree. Many Italian composers of the early twentieth century were fitting notes to words and coming up with dramatic,  strong scores-not concert hall stuff but good ol' blood and guts. One of the tenets of verismo is a depiction of every day life.

If that's the criteria Zandonai would have passed on D'Annunzio's text based on Dante. Gabriele D'Annunzio used language where today we see the sex act in all its variety, D'Annunzio's words are fragrant and suggestive, never vulgar. Paolo refers to his passion for Francesca 'come labbra d'una fresca ferita-like the lips of a fresh wound, likening to a rose . I never heard the name D'Annunzio mentioned today.

Eleanora Duse as Francesca
Music to a text like this needs to swirl and caress and bathe. So Zandonai does. He uses church modes to suggest a medieval austerity. He uses old instruments. Everything is suggested until-forgive-the climax of passion ending Act III. As erotic and dangerous as the story is, still we are allowed and encouraged to use our imaginations. Noting is thrown into our ears or faces.

One of the reasons I believe for Francesca's neglect is the requirement of the two leads to be very charismatic. We didn't have that today. Eva- Maria Westbroek did well. I enjoyed her guts and sincerity. She lacks the warm, pulsating voice that best fits this music.  She used her voice fearlessly and excitingly.   I found her performance measured, as if she were a soprano singing Francesca rather than being Francesca.

Marcello Giordani was made up to look like Charlie Sheen's grandfather Again, I think this music needs liquidity and flow to the voice Giordani can no longer summon. Mark Delavan had more voice than Cornell MacNeil did thirty years ago, but he wasn't as terrifying as his predecessor. Delavan was fun in interviews. I think he's better off in roles that show the line and beauty of his voice (line and beauty in this opera are in the orchestra) I'd love to hear his Germont again, or Posa, or Wolfram.

The hit of the afternoon for me was the gold curtain. Go ahead, laugh. Walking into the Met and seeing that great curtain tells you that you are in for something intended to be special. Unique. It's part of the passion in opera, Same with the curtain-bows. It becomes an Event, at least to me.
And what a joy to see beautiful 3-D sets...and not a present day costume or reference to be seen. D'Annunzio says medieval Italy and by God....

Marco Armilitato understood that the orchestra had to approach this score, lyrically,  as song, the battle scenes excepted. What we had today was a show with curtain that looked like 1980s at the Met. I'm grateful for recent productions of House of the Dead, The Nose, Maria Stuarda, and I loved the Vegas Rigoletto-but today the entire experience spelled o-p-e-r-a.

P.S. Riccardo Zandonai has a very worthy biographer in Konrad Dryden.Go find it. Well worth reading.

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