Italian verismo composer Giordano, like his contemporaries
Leoncavallo and Mascagni, is really only remembered for one
early opera. In Giordano’s case his one widely recognised
work is Andrea Chenier, which has had several distinguished
recordings. These have featured some of the greatest singers
including Domingo on DVD (see review).
Fedora, if not of the standard of Andrea Chenier, is very worthwhile.
Premiered in 1898 it was well received and travelled widely.
Giordano however, married into a wealthy family and his creativity
declined. After Il Re (1929) – his tenth opera - he
composed nothing further for the stage despite living until
1948. Fedora is mostly remembered for the hero’s brief
solo Amor ti vieta in Act 2, the tune pervading the
opera. Like Puccini’s Tosca but pre-dating it by two
years Fedora is also based on a play by Sardou. The
plot is somewhat melodramatic. Act I (Chs. 2-8) starts with
the murder in St. Petersburg of Fedora’s fiancé Vladimir.
In act II (Chs. 9-22) the scene moves to Paris where Fedora,
still pursuing the murderer of her fiancé, has tracked down
Loris who she believes responsible. He admits the killing,
but insists he can prove his innocence. Fedora draws up a
list of names for the police including Loris’s name and that
of his brother. Loris later convinces Fedora that the death
followed Vladimir seducing his wife. Fedora believes him
and in a passionate duet the two confess their love for one
another. Act 3 (Chs. 23-30) is set in Fedora’s villa in the
Bernese Oberland. She and Loris are living together contentedly
until he discovers that his brother was arrested thanks to
an earlier denunciation, in Paris, by a Russian woman. She
also learns that the brother drowned in his cell when the
nearby river overflowed. Worse, the shock had caused the
death off Loris’s mother. Loris realises that Fedora was
the Russian woman concerned with the original denunciation.
Fedora seeing no way out takes poison and dies in the arms
the time of the present recording Mirella Freni was in her
fifty-eighth year. In the halcyon years of her career in
the 1960s through to the mid-1980s her lovely lyric soprano,
convincing demeanour and vocal acting were strengths on many
recordings and in stage performances. With age, her voice
became heavier and she took on more dramatic roles. Fedora
in this typical verismo opera is typical of these roles with
its heavy demand on the voice. Although her age is visually
more obvious in parts, particularly act III, her appearance
and acting ability in the other scenes make her a very convincing
Fedora. Only under the most extreme pressure does her voice
show any unsteadiness and then only momentarily. Placido
Domingo is vocally and visually ideal as Loris. Rarely has
his acting been so convincingly caught on camera. He has
the vocal heft demanded by the role and sings his showpiece
aria with ardent tone. The duets between Loris and Fedora
are the significant highlights of the work and of this performance.
Domingo and Freni bring out the appropriate passion and tension
(Chs. 19-22 and 27-30).
Scarabelli as Olga sings with security and acts her part
well. As Count de Siriex, Alessandro Corbelli’s rather lean
tone and unbecoming appearance are not wholly ideal. The
many minor parts are sung without weakness vocally or in
terms of acting.
verismo principle involved real life situations, the more
contemporary the better. The action in this opera starts
in 1881/2 in St. Petersburg and fits the verismo concept
like a glove. The La Scala sets are sumptuous and appropriate
with the act III backdrop of lake and mountains in the Bernese
Oberland being particularly noteworthy and appealing. On
the podium the eighty-six year old Gianandrea Gavazzeni,
steeped in the verismo tradition, conducts with a passion
that belies his age whilst giving due to his experience in
works such as this. The camera work is discreet and artistically
achieved by subtle blending of close-up and medium shots
and is of the highest standard.
Robert J Farr
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