Francesca da Rimini
Ma dimmi: al tempo d’i dolci sospiri,
a che e come concedette amore
che conosceste i dubbiosi disiri?
Dante, Inferno, Canto V
Francresca (soprano Eva-Maria Westbrook) with either her ladies or her lover, Paolo (tenor Marcello Giordani), created beautiful visual tableaux arranging themselves with sets and costumes that reflected the art nouveau and jungendstil era in which the music was written. Zandonai’s score was filled with subtle orchestral colors reminiscent of Cilea and Respighi with occasional hints of Puccini. Their static but rich presentation gave an appropriately medieval flavor, resembling the composition of stained glass windows or tapestries.
The more dynamic duo of Giancotto (baritone Mark Delavan) and Malatestino (tenor Robert Brubaker) provided the action and drama. Mark Delavan’s sympathetic portrayal of Giancotto, traditionally a stock villain, completely transforms the opera from a standard early century Italian melodrama into something much more complex and interesting.
In this performance Giancotto is no longer the standard verismo jealous husband, a secondary character to the clandestine lovers. Giancotto dominates this production as the eldest son of the Guelph leader and podestà of Rimini, Malatesta da Verucchio. He is a successful power player in the turbulent political world of medieval Italy during the Romagnole wars of the thirteenth century. Yet for all his political and military acumen he is unable to achieve the same mastery over his own domestic arrangements. Failing to successfully navigate the internal politics of his own family, he is eventually forced to treat them in the manner of his political enemies.
Of course, seen this way the love story becomes not so much the main action but one of the supporting plots. The typical Romeo and Juliet plot has been transformed into a more unusual Othello. This presentation has the benefit of more fully engaging all four of the main characters in the action, rather than have them support the two central characters of the lovers. It becomes much richer and more interesting than the typical verismo melodrama.
An added bonus to this already excellent production was mezzo-soprano Ginger Costa-Jackson’s Smaragdi. We meet her in Act I where she exhibit’s the fluid cat-like movements of a dancer in the background of the main action. She sings in Act III, with an unusual deep, resonant and sultry voice. A very young singer at the very start of her career, recently graduating from the Met’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program. I kept thinking what a great Carmen she would make some day. And sure enough she has already performed the role at the Glimmerglass Opera in 2011 and will do so again at the Virginia Opera in 2014. Certainly someone to watch out for.
Performances continue on Tuesday March 19 and Friday March 22.
- Zandonai’s Francesca da Rimini (wqxr.org)
- `Francesca’ returns to Met after 27-year absence (miamiherald.com)
- Metropolitan Opera Review: Westbroek, Delavan, Giordani Triumph In Rare Revival of ‘Francesca Da Rimini’ (latinospost.com)