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Rob Maynard
MusicWeb International, December 2011

This production started something of a revival of interest in Giordano’s second best known score. The principals’ and the conductor’s obvious empathy and affection serve to demonstrate that there is much more to it than the ubiquitous Amor ti vieta and create a genuinely theatrical occasion that, nearly twenty years later, is well worth revisiting. © MusicWeb International



Rob Maynard
MusicWeb International, November 2011

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.

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, La Scala’s principal conductor from 1948 until his death in 1996, 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.



05/01/2011
Fanfare, May 2011

This is the same production that was reviewed twice on a TDK release in these pages, though both reviews were rather short, and one was something of an omnibus that considered Domingo in three other boxed sets at the same time. Arthaus Musik’s rerelease thus gives me a chance to focus a bit more on the details.

To start with, there are the costumes and sets of Luisa Spinatelli. The former are perfect, conveying a sense of class, nationhood, period, and event that seems both focused and unstrained. The latter are traditional, moderately detailed yet always utilitarian, a selection of contents appropriate in context. It’s good to see Loris, Fedora, and the other inhabitants of their world interacting with their material universe as you would naturally expect, rather than being forced in minimalist productions to sit or stand with nothing to do but look vague and sing. (Which isn’t to say that minimalist productions are invariably out of place, but where great directors have discovered the inner world of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen and Strauss’s Die Frau ohne Schatten, many lesser figures turn their innovations into an assembly line for drudgery.) The uncredited lighting uses localized sources to suggest an air of festivity, intimacy, or the chill of death walking among the living.

With the exception of the opening of act I, where Fedora’s three servants sing to one another but obstinately look out to the audience, Lamberto Puggelli’s stage direction is just as it should be. He blocks his actors convincingly, so that their movements individually or en masse never drew attention to themselves, but seem wholly at one with their immediate purpose. In particular, the Parisian soirée of act II unfolds as a series of numerous overlapping activities among small groups, providing an impression of spontaneity required to make the thing work. Most opera fans will recall party scenes poorly staged in innumerable La Traviata productions, with a chorus that acts in single-minded concert when it acts at all—so Puggelli’s efforts are welcome, indeed.

The singing is considerably better than might be expected, one of those occasions when a pair of elderly leads shed their years and shine. Domingo is arguably in better voice than many occasions I’d heard him on studio and live records 20 years before. The voice has its squillo, but it is his unexpected possession of velvet and its generous application, with no tightness in the throat, that remains in memory. “Amor ti vieta” has been sung countless times as a set piece by tenors; here, it rides a vernal tide of passion. Freni, too, sounds youthful. The voice is darker than earlier in her lengthy career, the lower range not as strong, but there is a convincing diminuendo in “Su questa santa croce,” along with warmth and focus throughout. The pair act convincingly, though the palm must go in this respect to Alessandro Corbelli, whose assumption of character and stagecraft (taking a casual, easily missed step to one side, for example, foreshadowing the attention he would receive in 15 seconds from Grech, the police inspector) is always unobtrusively appropriate. As much can be said for his singing of “La donna russa” (Giordano borrowing from Alabiev, who in turn borrowed from a Russian folk tune), and Adelina Scarabelli’s trippingly elegant response. (How much Giordano owed to a close study of Falstaff can be heard in the harmony and orchestration of that passage.)

It is fashionable in some circles to write off Gianandrea Gavazzeni as one of “those Italians,” meaning a group of Italian operatic conductors often in demand from the 1950s until their respective deaths. This conflates the great, the good, and the hacks. Gavazzeni was definitely among the great ones. I’ve heard him on dozens of RAI tapes, and whenever he was at the helm, there was always an energy, a guiding sense of purpose, and a sympathetic presence willing to work with singers, at the podium. So it proves in this Fedora.

The camerawork is good, and not surprisingly so, as it is also directed by Lamberto Puggelli. There are none of those endless close-ups common to so many operatic DVDs, but a framing of stage details that never loses track of the overall image and its emotional content. When the camera moves in on singers, it is usually to the midrange, so that “Amor ti vieta” means not merely a focus on Loris, but on Fedora’s immediate response as well.

As for the opera, it convinces. The statement is still heard in some quarters that Fedora needs to be excused because it is melodrama can be applied just as well to Tosca, Madama Butterfly, Faust, Tannhäuser, Lohengrin, Rigoletto, La Juive, Il Trovatore, Pagliacci, and Cavalleria Rusticana, among many others, yet no one apologizes for those operas’ structural crudities. A better distinction would be that these other operas are well known, hence their flaws—if melodrama is a theatrical flaw—can be readily overlooked, where Fedora’s cannot. I don’t find it an impressive argument, at least not when countered with the lyrical sweep and sophisticated craftsmanship of this opera. Giordano was to achieve far more in his masterpiece, La cena delle beffe, and his final, wittily nostalgic comedy, Il re, but no apologies are necessary for Fedora—least of all, when it’s given such advocacy as you can find in this production.



Barry Brenesal
Fanfare, May 2011

This is the same production that was reviewed twice on a TDK release in these pages, though both reviews were rather short, and one was something of an omnibus that considered Domingo in three other boxed sets at the same time. Arthaus Musik’s rerelease thus gives me a chance to focus a bit more on the details.

To start with, there are the costumes and sets of Luisa Spinatelli. The former are perfect, conveying a sense of class, nationhood, period, and event that seems both focused and unstrained. The latter are traditional, moderately detailed yet always utilitarian, a selection of contents appropriate in context. It’s good to see Loris, Fedora, and the other inhabitants of their world interacting with their material universe as you would naturally expect, rather than being forced in minimalist productions to sit or stand with nothing to do but look vague and sing. (Which isn’t to say that minimalist productions are invariably out of place, but where great directors have discovered the inner world of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen and Strauss’s Die Frau ohne Schatten, many lesser figures turn their innovations into an assembly line for drudgery.) The uncredited lighting uses localized sources to suggest an air of festivity, intimacy, or the chill of death walking among the living.

With the exception of the opening of act I, where Fedora’s three servants sing to one another but obstinately look out to the audience, Lamberto Puggelli’s stage direction is just as it should be. He blocks his actors convincingly, so that their movements individually or en masse never drew attention to themselves, but seem wholly at one with their immediate purpose. In particular, the Parisian soirée of act II unfolds as a series of numerous overlapping activities among small groups, providing an impression of spontaneity required to make the thing work. Most opera fans will recall party scenes poorly staged in innumerable La Traviata productions, with a chorus that acts in single-minded concert when it acts at all—so Puggelli’s efforts are welcome, indeed.

The singing is considerably better than might be expected, one of those occasions when a pair of elderly leads shed their years and shine. Domingo is arguably in better voice than many occasions I’d heard him on studio and live records 20 years before. The voice has its squillo, but it is his unexpected possession of velvet and its generous application, with no tightness in the throat, that remains in memory. “Amor ti vieta” has been sung countless times as a set piece by tenors; here, it rides a vernal tide of passion. Freni, too, sounds youthful. The voice is darker than earlier in her lengthy career, the lower range not as strong, but there is a convincing diminuendo in “Su questa santa croce,” along with warmth and focus throughout. The pair act convincingly, though the palm must go in this respect to Alessandro Corbelli, whose assumption of character and stagecraft (taking a casual, easily missed step to one side, for example, foreshadowing the attention he would receive in 15 seconds from Grech, the police inspector) is always unobtrusively appropriate. As much can be said for his singing of “La donna russa” (Giordano borrowing from Alabiev, who in turn borrowed from a Russian folk tune), and Adelina Scarabelli’s trippingly elegant response. (How much Giordano owed to a close study of Falstaff can be heard in the harmony and orchestration of that passage.)

It is fashionable in some circles to write off Gianandrea Gavazzeni as one of “those Italians,” meaning a group of Italian operatic conductors often in demand from the 1950s until their respective deaths. This conflates the great, the good, and the hacks. Gavazzeni was definitely among the great ones. I’ve heard him on dozens of RAI tapes, and whenever he was at the helm, there was always an energy, a guiding sense of purpose, and a sympathetic presence willing to work with singers, at the podium. So it proves in this Fedora.

The camerawork is good, and not surprisingly so, as it is also directed by Lamberto Puggelli. There are none of those endless close-ups common to so many operatic DVDs, but a framing of stage details that never loses track of the overall image and its emotional content. When the camera moves in on singers, it is usually to the midrange, so that “Amor ti vieta” means not merely a focus on Loris, but on Fedora’s immediate response as well.

As for the opera, it convinces. The statement is still heard in some quarters that Fedora needs to be excused because it is melodrama can be applied just as well to Tosca, Madama Butterfly, Faust, Tannhäuser, Lohengrin, Rigoletto, La Juive, Il Trovatore, Pagliacci, and Cavalleria Rusticana, among many others, yet no one apologizes for those operas’ structural crudities. A better distinction would be that these other operas are well known, hence their flaws—if melodrama is a theatrical flaw—can be readily overlooked, where Fedora’s cannot. I don’t find it an impressive argument, at least not when countered with the lyrical sweep and sophisticated craftsmanship of this opera. Giordano was to achieve far more in his masterpiece, La cena delle beffe, and his final, wittily nostalgic comedy, Il re, but no apologies are necessary for Fedora—least of all, when it’s given such advocacy as you can find in this production.






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5:51:30 PM, 29 December 2014
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