Umberto GIORDANO (1867-1948)
Fedora - melodrama in three acts (1898)
Princess Fedora Romazoff - Mirella Freni
Countess Olga Sukarew - Adelina Scarabelli
Count Loris Ipanoff - Placido Domingo
De Siriex - Alessandro Corbelli
Dimitri - Silvia Mazzoni
A young shepherd boy - Monica Minarelli
Desiré - Ernesto Gavazzi
Baron Rouvel - Aldo Bottion
Cirillo - Luigi Roni
Boroff - Silvestro Sammaritano
Gretch - Alfredo Giacomotti
Loreck - Ernesto Panariello
Nicola - Vincenzo Alaimo
Sergio - Bruno Capisani
Michele - Renato Zanchetta
Boleslao Lazinski - Arnold Bosman
Orchestra and chorus of the Teatro alla Scala/Gianandrea Gavazzeni
Directed for the stage by Lamberto Puggelli
Set and costume design by Luisa Spinatelli
Directed for television and video by Lamberto Puggelli
rec. live, Teatro alla Scala, Milan, 1993
ARTHAUS MUSIK DVD 107 143 [113:00]
The overwhelming popularity of Cav and Pag means that verismo opera tends to be associated with violent passions bursting through a thin surface of respectability, family loyalty and religious devotion among “real life” working class communities.
But it is not only peasants or factory workers who live real lives. Princesses, counts, secret policemen and anarchists live them too and, providing they steer clear of the more fantastical trappings of the operatic stage, can be just as verismo as those more familiar betrayed young women or jealous clowns on the verge of utter madness.
Similarly, while Mascagni’s and Leoncavallo’s warhorses encourage us to think of the genre as largely confined to the impoverished communities of the hot Italian south, verismo action is just as true to life in St Petersburg, Paris or Berne - the settings in Fedora - as in Salerno, Palermo or Brindisi.
Less well known than it ought to be, Fedora remained - apart from the tenor’s brief but show-stopping aria Amor ti vieta - largely unheard from the 1930s until the 1990s when this very production spearheaded a steady revival of interest. That rebirth quickly built up a head of steam and the stars here, Freni and Domingo, can actually be found on rival DVD sets - this one from 1993 (previously available on the TDK label) and a Metropolitan Opera production from New York that was recorded four years later (DG DVD 073 2329).
The first thing to note about the performance under consideration is that both Freni and Domingo were at the height of their powers. Both sing magnificently and very movingly and they act, too, with real commitment, putting into practice a philosophy that Freni had expressed a few years earlier: “You cannot sing on stage the way you do in the Conservatoire. You have to do it with all your heart, you have to feel the meaning of the words, and experience the dramatic truth at every moment; you have to know how to listen to the music coming out of the pit and how to blend your sound with the orchestra’s. Operatic singing is not an academic act, it is an artistic act.” (Quoted in Diva: great sopranos and mezzos discuss their art by Helena Matheopoulos [London, 1991], p.93.)
While, however, the sounds these artists make are truly magnificent and their acting on is very well done indeed, there is one particular caveat that needs to be made: this production is best watched without subtitles, so that you can follow the general drift of the plot without noticing that the words being sung are occasionally at odds with what we are watching. Arturo Colautti’s tightly constructed libretto (after Victorien Sardou) makes, after all, specific and repeated reference to Loris’s youth. Fedora often calls him a boy and her paramour’s own mawkishly juvenile, not to say positively Oedipal, invocations of his dear mother similarly suggest someone who is scarcely past puberty in his emotional development. With Freni a pretty well-preserved 58 and Domingo only six or so years younger, I found the absence of a clearly visible age gap really jarring - though it is worth noting that my colleague Robert J. Farr, reviewing an earlier DVD incarnation of this production, thought Domingo to be “vocally and visually[my emphasis]ideal” (see here). In fairness, too, let me add that watched on its own terms - and with, as I recommend, those subtitles switched off - the story works just as well as a drama involving two middle aged protagonists.
This production was clearly cast from strength, and all the supporting roles are well filled by singers who know what they are about. The very experienced Gianandrea Gavazzeni applies all his vast experience to the score with which both he and his players are in evident sympathy. Sets and costumes are evocative and effective and the direction for TV and video is unobtrusively efficient. There is a booklet essay by Werner Pfister which, given Fedora’s comparatively low profile - it fails to earn any entry at all in the 700-odd pages of Stanley Sadie’s The New Grove Book of Operas - will be useful to many who come to it for the first time.
A production was clearly cast and played from strength.