[Met Performance] CID:275700
New Production
Francesca da Rimini {12} Metropolitan Opera House: 03/9/1984.

(Debuts: Piero Faggioni, Ezio Frigerio, Franca Squarciapino
Review)


Metropolitan Opera House
March 9, 1984
Benefit sponsored by the Metropolitan Opera Guild
for the production funds
New Production


FRANCESCA DA RIMINI {12}
Zandonai-D'Annunzio/Ricordi

Francesca da Rimini.....Renata Scotto
Paolo...................Plácido Domingo
Giovanni................Cornell MacNeil
Malatestino.............William Lewis
Samaritana..............Nicole Lorange
Smaragdi................Isola Jones
Garsenda................Gail Robinson
Biancofiore.............Natalia Rom
Altichiara..............Gail Dubinbaum
Donella.................Claudia Catania
Simonetto...............Brian Schexnayder
Ostasio.................Richard Fredricks
Toldo...................Anthony Laciura
Berlingerio.............John Darrenkamp
Archer..................John Gilmore
Prisoner................John Bills

Conductor...............James Levine

Production..............Piero Faggioni [Debut]
Set designer............Ezio Frigerio [Debut]
Costume designer........Franca Squarciapino [Debut]
Lighting designer.......Gil Wechsler
Choreographer...........Donald Mahler

Production a gift of Mrs. Donald D. Harrington

Francesca da Rimini received sixteen performances this season.

Review by Peter G. Davis in New York Magazine:

SWEET SCENE

It must have taken some nerve on James Levine's part to engineer a new production of Riccardo Zandonai's Francesca da Rimini at the Metropolitan Opera. Even before the first performance, superior beings began to sniff. Why resurrect this moldy fig by a second-rate composer from the post-Puccini generation? Isn't it bad enough that the Met occasionally wastes its time on Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur? That work, for most critics, more than adequately sums up early-twentieth-century Italian verismo and a trashy operatic era best forgotten.
Well, let them fume. In a broad sense, the reappearance of Francesca at the Met after 66 years can be justified as part of Levine's commendable ambition to explore significant areas of the- repertory that the company has either neglected or completely ignored. Personally, I welcome any opportunity for further acquaintance, having developed a soft spot for Francesca long ago, when the score and later a recording fell into my teenage hands. The first production I saw a gorgeous one in 1959 at La Scala, with Magda Olivero and Mario Del Monaco remains a vivid, treasured memory. For me, the astonishing part about the Met's Francesca da Rimini is not so much the fact that it was done at all, but that it was treated so sensitively and with such a keen appreciation for the special requirements of verismo and a practically vanished performing tradition.
Admittedly, Francesca exudes an aura of decadence, but no more so than the stage works of Richard Strauss. Some will always find the sweet perfumes of these operas noxious, a slightly morbid aroma compounded in Zandonai's case by Gabriele D'Annunzio's extravagant libretto. Drenched in flowery verbal imagery, this retelling of the tragic Paolo-and-Francesca affair mentioned in Dante's Inferno is so full of gaudy grandiloquence and D'Annunzio's bizarre cult-of-the-beautiful aesthetic that even Italians find much of the text incomprehensible.
Zandonai was one of the few composers to base an opera on a D'Annunzio drama—possibly the only one who were not defeated by the poet's high-flown language. Much help in this respect came from Zandonai's publisher, Tito Ricordi, who skillfully reduced the original play to its barest essentials without sacrificing the characters' driving obsessions or the lush Renaissance atmosphere. The Act I curtain falls on a scene of sheer operatic magic: Surrounded by their retinues, Paolo and Francesca meet for the first time and their love is kindled without either uttering a word; an offstage female chorus floats its sensuous melody over a ravishing orchestral texture of shimmering strings punctuated by the archaic sounds of a solo lute, piaffer, and throbbing viola pomposa, as Francesca offers Paolo a rose. Zandonai was master of such delicate mood painting, but he
could also graphically depict the drama's desperate, brutal passions while never disregarding the voice or its capacity for sustained lyrical expression.
The Met must have spent a fortune on Francesca da Rimini, but there is no way to skimp on this opera and do it right. If one element is slighted sets, costumes, casting, conducting, or direction—the entire fragile illusion collapses. With their intricate decorative details, the massive sets by Ezio Frigerio serve the work exquisitely, conjuring up striking tableaux of thirteenth-century Rimini. The flowery courtyard, an awesome citadel armed for battle, and richly furnished castle apartments irresistibly draw the audience into the opera's romantic milieu. Piero Faggioni's graceful direction strikes a perfect balance between veristic and poetically stylized movement; the long scene in Act III, as the two lovers' repressed sexual attraction becomes increasingly physical, evolves choreographically, in a riveting sequence of potent visual images.
As Francesca, Renata Scotto has found her ideal role, one that responds naturally to the fascinating chiaroscuro of her unusual timbre and vibrates with the dramatic intensity her special stage personality can generate when all is well a great performance in a tradition that is now hers by right of training and temperament. Paolo is not an especially grateful part, but Placido Domingo sang it glamorously, while Cornell MacNeil as the betrayed Gianciotto roared, appropriately enough, like a wounded animal. Levine conducted far more discreetly than he often does when leading an opera for the first time, and his affectionate concern for the music told in every measure. I could complain about some of the casting in the many important smaller roles, but I won't. The main point is that the Met championed an underdog opera, threw its considerable resources behind it, and scored a creditable artistic achievement.



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