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CD: AmazonUK
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Umberto GIORDANO (1867–1948)
Marcella - Idillio moderno in three episodes (1907)
Serena Daolio (soprano) – Marcella; Danilo Formaggia (tenor) – Giorgio; Pierluigi Dilengite (baritone) – Drasco; Natalizia Carone (mezzo) – Clara; Angelica Girardi (soprano) – Raimonda; Mara D’Antini (soprano) – Eliana; Maria Rosa Rondinelli (soprano) – Lea; Marcello Rosiello (baritone) – Vernier; Giovanni Coletta (baritone) – Barthélemy; Graziano De Pace (baritone) – Flament; Bratislava Chamber Choir; Orchestra Internazionale d’Italia,/Manlio Benzi
rec. live, Palazzo Ducale, Martina Franca, Italy, August 2007
Italian libretto and English translation enclosed
World premiere recording
DYNAMIC CDS573 [64:18]
Experience Classicsonline

‘In a luxurious restaurant in Paris a group of friends are enjoying life in the small hours when the painter Giorgio appears. In reality, he is prince and heir apparent in a country somewhere in the Balkans. There is a row when a group of people are seen running after a frightened girl, mocking her for not wanting to be kissed by some customers. Giorgio and his friends defend the girl and the crowd disperses. The girl tells Giorgio her story. Her name is Marcella. She comes from poor circumstances and followed a friend to work in this restaurant. The establishment has a dubious reputation but she has not yielded to living in sin. Giorgio and Marcella are gradually drawn to each other and the first episode end with the couple leaving the restaurant together.

In the second episode we are in a country house where Marcella and Giorgio are living together, deeply in love. Marcella still doesn’t know Giorgio’s true identity. His friend and compatriot Drasco arrives and tells Giorgio about the serious political situation in their home country. The sovereign is old and weak and Giorgio realises that it is his duty to return home and settle the unrest. He wants to leave the same night. Marcella overhears the conversation and understands that this is the end of their happy life. They talk about it in deep sadness.

In the third episode it is night and they are bidding each other farewell. Giorgio wants Marcella to come with him but the difference between their conditions is too big, says Marcella and rejects his offer. They part in deep distress – their mutual feelings are not dead but their mutual life together has become impossible.

This is the plot in this short Idillio moderno, a kind of verismo aftermath by Umberto Giordano. Giordano first came to notice when he took part in a competition for the best one-act opera; it was won by Pietro Mascagni with Cavalleria rusticana. Giordano’s contribution, entitled Marina, was placed sixth among seventy-three. This led to a commission from the publishers Casa Sonzogno for the 1891-92 season, Mala vita. Dealing with a prostitute heroine it caused a minor scandal but it was so successful that it was played in Vienna, Prague and Berlin as well. In 1896, after a romantic opera that flopped, his best known work, Andrea Chenier, was premiered and it has stood the test of time ever since. Fedora, premiered two years later with Gemma Bellincioni singing the title role opposite a young and practically unknown Enrico Caruso, has also survived though in a more backward position. The aria Amor ti vieta is in most lyric-dramatic tenors’ recital repertoire. His later operas are seldom or never heard but Siberia (1903) – with singers like Rosina Storchio, Giovanni Zenatello, Giuseppe De Luca and Antonio Pini-Corsi in the premiere cast – had resounding success and ran for several seasons in Paris. As late as 1915 Madame Sans-Gêne was a hit when it was premiered at the Metropolitan in NY, conducted by Arturo Toscanini and with Geraldine Farrar, Giovanni Martinelli, Pasquale Amato and Paul Althouse in the leading roles.

In the liner-notes there is a curious statement that Giordano was ‘in the final phases of his creativity (only Mese Mariano was to come …’. This seems to be a misunderstanding from the translator, since this bracketed passage doesn’t appear in the Italian original. The truth is that Giordano completed another three operas after Madame Sans-Gêne – the last of them, Il Re, in 1929. Another was left unfinished.

‘Puccini with water’ was the dismissive comment I once heard about Giordano’s music. It may be that his melodic invention isn’t as constantly inspired as Puccini’s. He sometimes resorts to rather empty bombast or syrupy sentimentality. The orchestral texture is not always as refined and subtle as the older master’s, but there are many memorable melodies in his oeuvre and arias and duets are eminently singable. Giorgio’s Dolce notte misterioso in the third episode is an aria that Puccini would have been proud of. Both Tito Schipa and Beniamino Gigli agreed and sang it in recital. No less than Fernando De Lucia was the one who sang it at the premiere, while Gemma Bellincioni, who was the first Fedora a decade earlier, sang Marcella.

Writing lovely music for tenor and soprano was Puccini’s forte and in this opera they are practically the only ones that matter. ‘The three acts are nothing more than three love duets for the protagonists’, says Alberto Cantù in his notes and this is by no means an exaggeration. Of the others only Drasco has something important to sing. Most of this comes in the dramatic and powerful scene in the second episode, when he and Giorgio discuss the terrible situation in their home country. Maybe the finest music in the opera is the prelude to episode III for strings, an evocative nocturne opening with a ravishingly beautiful cello melody. The long scene in episode II E dovrei lasciar tutto … Sempre così. Voglimi bene! is truly inspired and again Puccini must have envied his younger colleague.

Recorded during performances there are some stage noises, but I’ve heard much worse. The sound is slightly dry but it is well balanced and the record company lives up to its name. I haven’t been able to find any information on the soloists but soprano Serena Daolio has at least taken part in a complete recording of Marchetti’s Romeo e Giulietta and tenor Danilo Formaggia has featured in another Romeo and Juliet opera, Bellini’s I Capuleti ed i Montecchi. They have primarily lyrical voices, she slightly fluttery, lending a vulnerable quality to her singing, he smooth and with a good ring, though not without some strain. They both grow in dramatic conviction through the opera and the final duet is deeply moving. Pierluigi Dilengite has a good darkish baritone and invests Drasco’s role with pathos.

I doubt that there will be too many opportunities to see and hear this opera live and there is undoubtedly some highly attractive music that has been unperformed for too long. ‘Puccini with water’ indeed! But I prefer that mix to ‘Puccini with syrup added’ which in some musical bars I have visited has been the only available option.

Göran Forsling

see also Review by Robert Hugill



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