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John Holland
A-R Editions, Inc., September 2010

Marcella is a relatively early work in Giordano’s career (1907), but it had the misfortune to come after both Andrea Chenier and Fedora. It is a simple, bittersweet romance, only about an hour long, which bears a close resemblance to The Student Prince, although it predates Romberg’s operetta, and it has none of the histrionics of the earlier or later operas that are more clearly in the verismo style. It is the story of a brief, idyllic romance between a prince and a commoner, which is shattered when he is forced to abandon Marcella and return to the aid of his homeland. Except for a short scene in which the prince learns of the political unrest at home, the score is sweet and melodic, often sounding more like Franz Lehár than the Giordano we know.

This performance comes from the 2007 Festival della Valle d’Itria in Martina Franca, which has specialized in reviving operas that have fallen through the repertory cracks. Soprano, Serena Daolio and tenor, Danilo Formaggia have the technique and professionalism to carry the show off...The other roles have very little to do, but are similarly in capable, if workmanlike, hands. Interest will be primarily in the score itself, which is revealed as an attractive alternative to the standard repertory, and it is recommended as such.

Barry Brenesal
Fanfare, May 2010

Umberto Giordano pursued a winning formula with Andrea Chenier (1896) and Fedora (1898), but found waning success with Siberia (1903). Sensing a need for change, he decided to go with a libretto that was the opposite of these—its attention focused upon the relationship of two people in effect outside time, cushioned from reality, rather than those of a romantic couple buffeted by powerful historical forces. The story he chose to illustrate this unfortunately comes across as a creaky cliché over a hundred years later, but it was powerful enough to be the subject of numerous novels, plays, and successful films through the 1920s, its best-known variant being The Student Prince.

In Marcella, the prince falls in love with a commoner—a homeless woman outside a fashionable Parisian restaurant—and launches a lengthy, idyllic affair. Then an army officer arrives, and points out that his father has fallen prey to bad advisors, leading to a popular uprising. The prince agrees to leave at once, and the woman insists he go alone, which he does to their mutual heartbreak.

Full-length operatic hits have been constructed out of less, but Giordano chose to avoid plot complications, set numbers, and slowing matters down with extraneous events. This was probably a miscalculation, as Marcella lasts only slightly longer than an hour. Without the mix of violence and easy tunes found in both Cavalleria rusticana and Pagliacci, it failed to hold its audience’s attention, despite a score that rises to inspired heights in its second of three scenes, and an excellent first cast that included Fernando de Lucia and Gemma Bellincioni. (Tito Schipa took the role of Giorgio in a Marcella revival during the 1937–38 season at La Scala. He was paired with Magda Olivero. Too bad I’ve misplaced my time machine.) This production is unlikely to reverse its fortunes, but it does more than hint at what Marcella could achieve with a first-rate presentation.

The direction is best described as functional. People move where they should, and there’s a clear sense of life on stage outside of whoever is singing at the current moment; but the love scenes in the second and third episodes are awkwardly posed. The set for the first scene, showing the street and shallow interior of the restaurant, is handled well, but the large, square column cutouts of the rest, dividing the back of the stage into three huge open sections with square windows, hardly proclaims the location as a countryside cottage. Unless it was renovated 30 years later by Frank Lloyd Wright.

The two principals are reasonably good. Serena Daolio has a few tremulous notes around the break, but otherwise delivers an emotionally committed and lyrically affecting Marcella. Danilo Formaggia (a former student of Alfredo Kraus) is hardly the romantic image of a youthful prince—not with a hairline that has receded to two inches above his back collar—but with a rather small voice he supplies a well-phrased, subtle, and intensely musical Giorgio. The others in the cast are all more than competent, and Benzi conducts the fine International Orchestra of Italy with both energy and an ear for color. There’s certainly plenty of both in Giordano’s opera.

The video format is 16:9, with sound available in Dolby Digital 2.0 and Dolby surround 5.0. Subtitles are provided in English and Italian, but there are no extras—more of a drawback than usual for an opera with such a short runtime. Still, fans of Giordano will find much to enjoy in this attractive work, which is not likely to appear in any local opera house soon. Recommended.

Chris Mullins
Opera Today, October 2009

Manlio Benzi conducts the Orchestra Internazionale d’Italia, producing a warm, excited sound suitable to the score.

David Shengold
Opera News, October 2009

Umberto Giordano had an affinity for Paris. Three of the four Giordano works the Met has staged—his masterpiece, Andrea Chénier, as well as Fedora and Madame Sans-Gêne, though not La Cena delle Beffe—figure the French capital and its romantic possibilities as a contrast to murderous political upheavals. The pattern holds for 1907’s one-act Marcella, which had its premiere at Milan’s Teatro Lirico. The opera is kind of a proto-Rondine with reversed polarities, crossed with The Student Prince (disguised Ruritanian heir posing as artist rescues impoverished girl, then breaks her heart when homeland duty calls). It has three “episodes”—Trovata, Amata and Abbandonata…The sentimental prelude before the third episode, beautifully led by the first cello, fulfills a requirement of the verismo one-act genre…The last episode, largely the impassioned, conflicted farewell of the lovers, is melodically the work’s richest part…This is a worthwhile curiosity for committed verismo fans.

Göran Forsling
MusicWeb International, September 2009

This recording, which is the only one available, has been uncommonly thoroughly covered at MusicWeb International. About a year ago Robert Hugill and myself reviewed the CD issue and recently Colin Clarke gave a detailed analysis of the DVD version. Though opinions concerning details quite naturally differ we do agree upon the merits of the music and that the work is well worth the attention of opera-lovers—It’s unlikely that it will appear in an alternative recording.

Coming back to Marcella after almost a year only enhanced my admiration for the work. There are many catchy melodies and the treatment of the orchestra stands out as very professional and sensitive. Again the prelude to Episode Three emerged as one of the loveliest things not only in this but in the other operas by Giordano—Andrea Chenier and Fedora—that I know. It is also tautly constructed and the peripeteia in the middle of Episode Two is skilfully calculated. There, when Drasco reports on the terrible political situation in his and Giorgio’s native country, the music appropriately takes on a darker, more aggressive tone, and brings out the nationalist pathos of the two. The end of the opera is more doubtful: the music kind of ebbs away—or evaporates as Robert Hugill puts it—with Marcella lying on the floor, Giorgio hurrying out and the last thing we hear before the drama is over is the sounds of his footsteps.

Seeing the work staged no doubt adds one dimension to the appreciation and deepens the emotions. I totally agree with Colin Clarke that the filming is not very inventive but at least the depraved atmosphere of the restaurant in the first episode comes to life and we are moved by the deep emotions in the scenes with Marcella and Giorgio, who after all are the only characters that matter greatly.

Serena Daolio (Marcella) and Danilo Formaggia (Giorgio) are convincing actors though in close-up the gesticulation may sometimes seem somewhat exaggerated, at least from Ms Daolio. In the theatre this is easier to stomach. I found both singers well suited to their roles—maybe Serena Daolio looks a bit older than the supposed age of Marcella—and will no doubt want to return to this production in either of its incarnations for so much fine impassioned singing.

John Terauds
Toronto Star, June 2009

Italian opera composer Umberto Giordano (1867–1948) is best known for Andrea Chenier, still in rep around the world. But he wrote many other operas—many now forgotten, like the one-act, three-scene drama Marcella. It was mounted two years ago to mark the centennial of its premiere in 1907. The score was apparently lost amid the chaos of World War II, and this production, from Festival of the Valle D’Itria, in Italy, is based on Giordano’s original notes.

There’s a raucous opening scene in a Parisian restaurant where a prince arrives to have some fun, only to fall in love with a poor young woman. Naturally, they fall in love, he reveals his true identity and they both realise that they have no choice but to go their separate ways.

There are several achingly beautiful duets during the second and third scenes, but, otherwise, the pretty music not memorable. The production is solid, with some fine singing. But clumsy camera work wastes much of the first scene. The audio is not ideal, either. At least we have a record of this never-before-filmed opera. It runs slightly more than an hour.

Colin Clarke
MusicWeb International, June 2009

This performance was intended to celebrate the centenary of the work’s premiere. The score and parts of the work were destroyed during World War II, and the performing materials have been reconstructed from the composer’s manuscript. The story of love shattered when Marcella’s love, Giorgio, is revealed to be a Prince acting incognito—he is called back to right issues of state, and their life together is curtailed. Shades of Traviata can be detected—at least here she does not die at the end. The titles of the opera’s three “episodes” track the dramatic process: “Trovata” (found), “Amata” (loved) and “Abbandonata” (abandoned). There is a patch of the final episode—around 58 minutes in—that seems to swerve towards the musical world of Tosca.

There is huge value here in being able to enjoy the staged version of the opera, as the chances of seeing this live are slim indeed…The orchestra is of an acceptable standard; a good pit orchestra but no more…The score is focused pretty relentlessly on the principal couple, sung here by Serena Daolio and Danilo Formaggia. Formaggia has a free voice that Robert Hugill likens to Bocelli’s. I see the parallel but would point out that Formaggia sounds more in tune than his more famous colleague. Daolio acts her part well, and sings affectingly for her aria, “Io solo al mondo” in the first episode…Daolio’s rapture as, in the second episode, she recalls her love of Giorgio and “that night, three months ago”, is also eminently believable. The love duet here brings out the best in Formaggia, whose avowal that he will never abandon her is allotted a high level of poignancy…The baritone Pierluigi Dilengite, as Drasco, is a fine singer with focused voice. It is he who has to call Giorgio to duty, and he rises to the dramatic moment well.

Manlio Benzi is a sensitive conductor throughout…

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