Mrs G does not like to see grown men cry but, fortunately, she is in Singapore this week so I could fully relish this three handkerchief opera, the latest in the series from the New York Met to be broadcast on the UK Artsworld channel. I see a lot of Bohèmes and Traviatas so it makes a nice change sometimes to see an opera that I have never heard of by a composer, Riccardo Zandonai that I have also never heard of. When that work turns out to be a neglected masterpiece, it is more than a nice change: it is a miracle.
I had to look-up Zandonai. He was a popular Italian composer in the first half of the last century. He made a triumphant concert tour of Germany during the early 1940s, which, in retrospect, may have been a bad career move. If I had to characterise him, I would say that Francesca shows influences from Tristan and Isolde, Pelléas et Mélisande and Der Rosenkavalier. But Zandonai appears to be his own man; his music is very much through-composed with no arias but it is always melodic with a sensuous, erotic beauty. His music seems to have slipped out of fashion. This revival, in 1984, was widely praised at the time but unfortunately does not appear to have had a lasting effect on Zandonai's reputation.
I have come across Francesca da Rimini during my forays into Italian literature. Dante consigned her to the second circle of hell for her adultery with her brother-in-law Paolo Malatesta. Zandonai takes a more sympathetic view of the relationship, depicting their struggle to avoid the inevitable affair that follows their love at first sight. Francesca is played by Renata Scotto, a singer that I previously knew only on record. In this performance she is, let us say, in the twilight of her career. She can no longer manage some of the role's vocal pyrotechnics but she has a radiant presence on stage, great dramatic ability and is very moving in the love duets with Plácido Domingo. Domingo himself is in the ascendant; he is in perfect voice, young, slim and looking every inch the part of Il Bello Paolo, Paolo the Beautiful. The parts of Gianciotto and Malatestino, Paulo's two ugly brothers are ably sung and played by Cornel MacNeil and William Lewis.
The enthusiastic Met audience feel the need to clap but they are thwarted by the through-composed nature of the piece. There are just no gaps in the sensuous flow of music to allow for applause. They are reduced to clapping the scenery whenever the curtain rises. This offends my British sense of reserve but I have to admit that the Pre-Raphaelite sets and costumes by Ezio Frigerio are jaw-dropping, so much so that the lady who gave the money to pay for them gets her name in the credits.
At the end of Act I, Francesca and Paolo set eyes on each other for the first time. They are dumbstruck. How do you depict being struck dumb in an opera? Zandonai does it with breathtaking audaciousness. There is a long and incredibly erotic cello solo while the couple just gaze at each other. I too was lost for words.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?