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Giacomo PUCCINI (1858 - 1924)
Edgar - Lyrical drama in four acts (1885-1887)
Edgar - José Cura (tenor)
Fidelia - Amarilli Nizza (soprano)
Tigrana - Julia Gertseva (mezzo)
Frank - Marco Vratogna (baritone)
Gualtiero - Carlo Cigni (bass)
Boys’ choir of the Teatro Regio Torino and the Conservatorio “Giuseppe Verdi” di Torino
Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro Regio Torino/Yoram David
Stage Director: Lorenzo Mariani
Set and Costume Design: Maurizio Balò
Subtitles: Italian, English, German, French, Spanish
Sound Format: PCM Stereo, DD5.1
Picture Format: 16:9
Region Code: 0
ARTHAUS MUSIK 101377 [157:00]
Experience Classicsonline

A varied, unhappy and long gestation distinguishes this opera from most. Puccini took some two years to write the original four act version. An interval of 18 months followed before its first performance at La Scala on Easter Sunday 1889. It was withdrawn after two more performances. Over the next six years Puccini revised and re-drafted with succeeding revisions performed in 1891 (Lucca), 1892 (Ferrara and Madrid) before the definitive three act version of 1905 at Buenos Aires. It has appeared only intermittently since.

This production is of the failed original 1889 version. The plot makes a little more sense than in the final one which suffers from dramatic cutting and pasting. However even in this original version it is still risible if not frequently ludicrous.

When the opera opens, Edgar is at the end of an affair with the Moor Tigrana. The ‘girl-next- door’ Fidelia loves Edgar which he almost reciprocates. Tigrana scandalises the church-attending villagers. They are about to attack her when Edgar comes to her aid. Edgar sets fire to his family home and fights and wounds Frank, Fidelia’s brother, as Frank tries to intervene. Edgar and Tigrana depart. In act 2 Edgar soon tires of his debauched lifestyle with Tigrana and joins a passing troop of soldiers captained by the said Frank. Act 3 takes place after an assumed battle. Edgar and Frank stage Edgar’s ‘funeral’. Fidelia is distraught. Tigrana is persuaded by the ‘disguised as a monk’ Edgar, to denounce him as a traitor. The attending troop of inflamed soldiers, intent upon desecration, open the empty coffin whereupon Edgar reveals himself. Act 4 reverts to Fidelia who still believes that Edgar is dead. She asks to be buried in her bridal veil. Frank and Edgar appear for the grand reconciliation after which they depart and leave Fidelia alone. Enter Tigrana who fatally stabs Fidelia. Tigrana is captured and led away.

This is not Puccini at his best. There is little character development, more a series of situations to which individuals respond - frequently without reason. Thus the invigorating lyricism of later Puccini is heard only occasionally. However there are several motifs that put one in mind of later Puccini and prevent longueurs allowing the mind to wander.

Originally set in 1302 Flanders, this production fast-forwards to the nineteenth century which the accompanying booklet explains is “... to the political and social atmosphere of the Risorgimento ... the period in which the work itself had been composed.” Hardly - the papal army was defeated in 1870 and for all practical purposes unification was complete. Never mind: it is a justification for martial behaviour and flag-waving at the end of act 2. Curiously, that act together with act 4 produced little audience response at the premiere with polite applause for the other two acts. Thus Puccini applied the cut-and-paste technique of today - the most dramatic being the deletion of Act 4 with its final dénouement tacked onto Act 3 and Fidelia killing Tigrana instead of vice versa. However that is not this version; here we have the original version with it stilted libretto (by Fontana) and its numerous non-sequiturs.

Many non-sequiturs surround Edgar and his inexplicable impetuosity. Loud dominating noise accompanies many of his actions. Only when introspective does his music suggest the lyricism which flows through Puccini’s subsequent operas. Act 1 affords José Cura little or no opportunity to sing: plenty of declamation, plenty of hard-edged sound. Act 2 is only a little better with his reflections on his debauched life-style. Incidentally that act has been transposed for this production: from a castle to a brothel with his mistress Tigrana as the Madame; so colourful costumes, some flashing flesh and some suggestive acting. Even when in disguise as the monk at his ‘own’ funeral, there is more declamation until the trio when at last his superb enunciation shines through with some beauty of tone. Similarly in his final duet with Amarilli Nizza (Fidelia) he is at last given the chance to sing with restraint and so produces strong colouring - even if the music itself is somewhat tedious. Unfortunately, for most of the time, Cura looks mildly bored.

Nizza fares better with her music: but it starts with her entry at forte when she sounds decidedly uncomfortable. From the smoothness and tonal beauty with which she invests high stave forte in later scenes the conclusion appears to be that she did not warm her voice sufficiently before her opening aria. Her act 3 arias Addio, mio dolce amore (track 27) and D’ogni dolor questo (track 30) are superbly delivered with strong dynamics and colouring: no shrill here: just convincing tonal beauty throughout the wide vocal range.

With a hint of vocal steel, Julia Gertseva (Tigrana) is an entirely convincing vamp. Her act 1 aria addressed to the village congregation would scandalise them by its sensual delivery ignoring the words and music. She leads a drinking song in act 2 Evviva!... Le coppe colmate! (tr. 18) with runs, leaps and low passages which she throws off effortlessly. Her temptation of Edgar on the next track has strong colouring and an outstanding floated note piano that she allows to drift in the air.

Marco Vratogna is the reliable Frank whose only failure is to love Tigrana by whom he is rejected. His aria of lamentation in act 1, Questo amor (tr. 9) is delivered in strong dark tones. His duet with Cura and the end of act 1 is noisily effective and their interaction at the fake funeral is convincing if musically undistinguished.

Carlo Cigni (Gualtiero: Fidelia and Frank’s father) does not have the most powerful voice but has perhaps the best ‘hummable’ tune of the opera Mio figlio! (track 14) leading into the ensemble of the anti-climactic penultimate scene of act 1. After the ‘funeral’ he is left with declamatory comfort for Nizza in her semi-delusional state with no opportunity for vocal display.

At this stage of Puccini’s career the influence of Ponchielli is very evident. The ensembles are noisy with fortissimo repetition of earlier music. The problem is that control is even more necessary than in quieter moments: a point which seems to have escaped Yoram David. It does not become a competition but more an opportunity for fortissimo orchestra and singers with little evidence of a disciplined balance. Sadly, more frequently than is comfortable, the orchestra almost drowns parts of arias; orchestral music with vocal accompaniment it should not be. All of which is regrettable not least because when reined back the flowing strings and strong brass and timpani give delightful glimpses of the techniques Puccini had already firmly established.

There are no reservations about the large chorus. Crisp, clear and controlled, producing some excellent interpretations. Well balanced voices carrying us into church, at a party in a brothel, through the fake funeral and supporting the soloists. Great singing. Great costumes too. No expense spared on any directorial aspect although the tufted grass floor throughout was a little odd in the brothel.

The 150th anniversary of Puccini’s birth was the reason for this revival, given added impetus by the discovery of the final act score previously thought lost. Is that sufficient justification for a revival of Puccini’s only failure? Probably, if only to give added insight to his development over these years.

Robert McKechnie 
 

 


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