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Umberto GIORDANO (1867–1948)
Marcella (1907) [64.18]
Marcella – Serena Daolio (soprano)
Giorgio – Danilo Formaggia (tenor)
Drasco – Pierluigi Dilengite (baritone)
Clara – Nataliza Carone (mezzo)
Raimonda – Angelica Girardi
Eliana – Mara D’Antini
Lea – Maria Rosa Rondinelli
Vernier – Marcello Rosiello
Barthelmy – Giovanni Coletta
Flament – Graziano De Pace
Bratislava Chamber Choir
Orchestra Internazionale d’Italia/Manlio Benzi
rec. live August 2007, Palazzo Ducale, Martina Franca, Italy
DYNAMIC CDS573 [64.18]
Experience Classicsonline

Giordano’s Marcella was premiered at the Teatro Lirico in Milan in 1907 with Gemma Bellincioni and Fernando De Lucia. The opera went on to have some success with Magda Olivero and Tito Schipa. Sadly, wartime bomb damage to the Sonzogno Publishing House meant that both full score and parts disappeared. For the 2007 Festival della Valle d’Itria Giordano’s manuscript score was re-copied so that centenary performances of Marcella could be given. It is these performances which form the basis for this disc.
The opera is relatively short, just three scenes lasting a total of 64 minutes. The plot, such as it is, owes something to La Traviata - though without the death - and something to La Rondine, with the addition of a rather strange streak of politics. Politics in various ways, in fact, threads its way through a number of Giordano’s operas such as Andrea Chenier and Fedora.
In Marcella, a pure but desperate girl, Marcella, is forced into prostitution by hunger. She is befriended by a young painter who is in reality the heir to the throne of a European country. The two fall in love. The prince is recalled to his duties by events in his home country and leaves her. There is nothing realistic about the plot, it is very contrived. It is only at the end of the second scene that Marcella realises that her lover Giorgio is in fact a prince; and we are asked to believe that the two of them have had a blissful country idyll lasting a few months.
Like La Rondine, the opera lacks the desperation of La Traviata and instead substitutes a mood of pleasant melancholy. Also, like La Rondine, Giordano opens the opera in a café, creating an attractive mélange of styles and some interesting orchestral effects. But once Giorgio and Marcella have met, then the opera becomes theirs. It is almost as if Giordano is seeing how much plot he can miss out without jeopardising the essentials of the core relationship.
Serena Daolio and Danilo Formaggia make an attractive couple and seem to respond well to the focus which Giordano places on them. It helps that Giordano manages to come up with some pretty good tunes. You don’t quite go away humming them, but he comes quite close. Daolia has a bright, spinto-ish voice which can sound a little over-bright. The recording sometimes catches her vibrato rather badly, but overall she has a good sense of line and allows the voice to blossom on Giordano’s grateful lines. You don’t ever believe that she is a put-upon house-maid - she sounds far too strong minded for that, but she gives a fine musical account of the role.
As her lover Giorgio, Danilo Formaggia has the sort of slightly dry, grainy but attractive tenor voice which I now associate with Andrea Bocelli. Formaggia sings the role with enviable freedom and certainly relishes Giordano’s long-lined melodies.
The opera was recorded live and this seems to help, allowing both protagonists to involve us in what little drama there is. You might not believe the plot but at least you believe in Daolio and Formaggia as a romantic couple.
The supporting cast are all well cast, providing good support in the ensembles in the opening scene. Of them it is really only Pierluigi Dilengite’s Drasco who gets much of a look in with his dramatic opportunity in scene 2 when Drasco recalls Giorgio to his duty.
The ending is obviously meant to be romantic as the couple’s big tune is followed by a passage where Giorgio hurries away leaving Marcella in tears. The net result is that we are left feeling the opera doesn’t finish so much as evaporate.
Manlio Benzi and the Orchestra Internazionale d’Italia give a fine account. The booklet includes a useful, if flowery, article about the opera plus a complete libretto in Italian and English - always a help with this sort of rarity.
No-one is going to claim that Marcella is a forgotten masterpiece, or that this cast is superlative but they give a fine, creditable account of an interesting rarity. Anyone interested in what was happening in Italian opera besides Puccini can buy this knowing that they will gain an attractive and idiomatically performed account of the opera.
Robert Hugill


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