Thursday, 2 April 2015

Giordano - Fedora (Genoa, 2015 - Webcast)

Umberto Giordano - Fedora

Teatro Carlo Felice di Genova, 2015

Valerio Galli, Rosetta Cucchi, Irene Cerboncini, Rubens Pelizzari, Sergio Bologna, Paola Santucci, Margherita Rotondi, Manuel Pierattelli, Alessandro Fantoni, Luigi Roni, Claudio Ottino, Roberto Maietta, Davide Mura

Carlo Felici Web Streaming - 24 March 2015

The spirit of Victorien Sardou weighs heavily upon Umberto Giordano's Fedora (1898). Adapted from Sardou's play, it has much in common with Tosca, even though Puccini's opera version of that work wouldn't come until two later. History has made judgement on the relative value of the two works and undoubtedly Puccini's particularly visceral treatment of similar romantic-historical material has ensured that the later work would eclipse not just Fedora but the only other well-known work by Giordano, the revolutionary drama of Andrea Chénier.

Unless you have a complete aversion to Puccini - and there are many in the opera world who are at least agnostic as far as the composer is concerned - it would be hard to argue that either of Giordano's best known works rates well alongside almost anything by Puccini, and not just Tosca. A fine production of Fedora by the Teatro Carlo Felice in Genoa (broadcast live from their web-streaming service) however gives us an opportunity to consider whether history, and the love of Puccini's admittedly more populist treatment of the subject, has been unkind to this particular work.

It might resemble Tosca in its dramatic format, but Giordano's approach to verismo opera is rather more purist. There are no familiar numbers, the music arising out of the drama, if not quite flowing in easy through-composition. There is only one real aria, a very short one ('Amor ti vieta di non amar'), but a famous one nonetheless, sung not by the leading lady of the title, Fedora, but by her lover Loris. The real problem with Giordano's treatment however is that it doesn't propose any significant distinguishing character of its own.

Giordano's music and approach to opera is unfortunately and all too apparently, no great advance upon the work of the undisputed master of Italian opera, Verdi. Puccini made his mark in his melodies and in storytelling that touches the heart in his early work and he even extend his techniques into impressionism and through-composition in his later operas, but on the strength of Fedora (and Andrea Chénier), Giordano might have the musical ability, but the chosen subject matter of his operas, and in particular the influence here of Sardou, don't really provide the kind of material that is going to break any new ground.

Although Giordano's musical approach to the subject doesn't really bear any comparison with Verdi, Fedora does however resemble the structure and nature of La Traviata more closely than any similarity with Tosca. It's a tragic story of a woman who falls for the wrong man (twice!), and because of actions in the past, is unable to find happiness and love, and is doomed to die a terrible tragic death in her lover's arms, believing that she cannot live with the betrayal. As melodramatic as the story is, it's typically well constructed for dramatic effect, getting straight to the romantic heart of the story, complicating it with some political involvement, and indicating early on that there are going to be tragic consequences later.

Set in St. Petersburg during the troubled late years of Czarist Russia, the tragic heroine here is the Princess Fedora Romazov. She is about to be married to Count Vladimir Andrejevich, but the first we see of the count is him being carried onto the stage wounded and dying. Suspicion for his murder falls upon Count Loris Ipanov, and to try to obtain proof, Fedora travels to Paris where she hopes to lure the Count into a confession. Unfortunately, when she learns the nature of the truth - that Loris did indeed kill Vladimir, but only because he was a dissolute wretch who seduced his wife - she really does fall in love with him. Their happiness together would be threatened if Loris knew of Fedora's connection to the Count, and indeed, Nihilist attacks on the Romanov family bring events and revelations tragically to their door.

Giordano's treatment of the subject is earnest, not overly distracted by the melodrama or seeking to overplay it (as you could accuse Puccini of doing in Tosca). One lovely touch, for example, is to set the key confession and revelation scene of Fedora's confrontation with Loris not to any great orchestral arrangement or with any kind of flair that would beg comparison with La Traviata, but rather setting it in contrast to a piano piece being played in the background at the Paris reception by an invited Polish musician Lazinski. It's wonderfully effective, as is the simplicity and placement of the beautiful short aria 'Amor ti vieta') in this act.

As fine as this is, there's still not dramatically or musically distinctive enough, but Fedora nonetheless remains a work that places big demands on its soprano and tenor leads (the role of Loris famously created by Caruso), and it can still be effective when it is sung well. If you want to see this work in its true Italian character moreover, you want to see it put on at an Italian opera company, and that's done rather well here in Genoa with Valerio Galli conducting the very capable Carlo Felice Orchestra and the principal roles well taken on the web broadcast performance of 24th March, by Irene Cerboncini as Fedora and Rubens Pelizzari as Loris. Technical problems prevented a viewing on the 21st of the principal cast of Daniela Dessì as Fedora, illness preventing her partner Fabio Armiliato from singing Loris that evening in any case. That's an indication of the kind of singers required for these roles, and the alternate cast didn't disappoint.

There's really only so much you can do with a drama like this however and Rosetta Cucchi doesn't really find any way to make it feel more relevant or contemporary. There is an attempt to frame the opera in flashback, an aged Loris seen at the beginning of each of the acts and at the conclusion. As such the production extends the scope of the drama to take in subsequent political upheaval that would have occurred in Loris's lifetime - silent scenes from WWI play out in the background at the start of the acts, but it's not to any great effect. The main part of the opera remains hard to distinguish from a production of La Traviata, with its period dress, ballroom scene and tragic finale. Attention to characterisation was strong however, and with good singing performances, this was a fine way to re-evaluate one of the many forgotten works of Italian verismo.

Forthcoming operas streamed from the Teatro Carlo Felice are BILLY BUDD on 17th April, CARMEN on the 8th and 12th May and THE MERRY WIDOW on 18th July.

Links: Teatro Carlo Felice Streaming