Time for another DK mashup of SNLC with the occasional opera series SN@TO, in the wake of the latest Metropolitan Opera HD-cast today. Hence today's variation on the standard lead-off question:
Anyone see the Metropolitan Opera HD-cast of Francesca da Rimini today?
I'm not sure if it's the relative obscurity of the opera or its composer, Riccardo Zandonai, or perhaps the earlier than usual starting time, but the crowd seemed sparser than usual at the movie house. Seems a shame, because in principle, the work's relative accessibility and "user-friendliness" might go down well with audiences who might want something not the usual fare (Verdi, Puccini, etc.), but that isn't threateningly "modern".
If you know your Dante, then you know that the story comes from the title character's tale as related in the Inferno, Canto V, besides the fact that there was a real-life Francesca da Rimini. More below the flip.....
First, as per usual, you can read a synopsis of the opera from the Met's website here, if you haven't read the Inferno (which qualifies, for me, in a sense, as the greatest horror story every written - but that's a rather brash statement, and a digression here, as usual from 3CM). This is the portion from Canto V that tells the story, taken from the this Princeton University site that has the original text and a translation in rough parallel, where Dante, escorted by Virgil, meets Francesca da Rimini in the 2nd circle of the Inferno:
"I' cominciai: "Poeta, volontieriIf one notes with a grain of salt the wikipedia article on the real-life Francesca, the idea of Francesca being tricked into marriage with the deformed Giovanni (a.k.a. Gianciotto) is apparently weak in historical basis. Plus, it does stretch dramatic plausibility just a tad that Francesca wouldn't find out until the day after the wedding that the guy she thought that she was marrying wasn't the good-looking one (as well as the most decent of the bunch - granted that it's not much of a stretch, given how icky the other two are), as the NYT review headline rather snarkily puts it. But as Eva-Maria Westbroek, the Dutch soprano who sings the title role, noted in the intermission banter with Sondra Radvanovsky, women being married off against their will still happens today. So that aspect isn't completely implausible now, sad to say.
parlerei a que' due che 'nsieme vanno,
e paion sì al vento esser leggeri."
I began: 'Poet, gladly would I speak
with these two that move together
and seem to be so light upon the wind.'
Ed elli a me: "Vedrai quando saranno
più presso a noi; e tu allor li priega
per quello amor che i mena, ed ei verranno."
And he: 'Once they are nearer, you will see:
if you entreat them by the love
that leads them, they will come.'
Sì tosto come il vento a noi li piega
mossi la voce: "O anime affannate,
venite a noi parlar, s'altri nol niega!"
As soon as the wind had bent them to us,
I raised my voice: 'O wearied souls,
if it is not forbidden, come speak with us.'
Quali colombe dal disio chiamate
con l'ali alzate e ferme al dolce nido
vegnon per l'aere, dal voler portate;
As doves, summoned by desire, their wings
outstretched and motionless, move on the air,
borne by their will to the sweet nest,
cotali uscir de la schiera ov' è Dido,
a noi venendo per l'aere maligno,
sì forte fu l'affettüoso grido.
so did these leave the troop where Dido is,
coming to us through the malignant air,
such force had my affectionate call.
"O animal grazïoso e benigno
che visitando vai per l'aere perso
noi che tignemmo il mondo di sanguigno,
'O living creature, gracious and kind,
that come through somber air to visit us
who stained the world with blood,
se fosse amico il re de l'universo,
noi pregheremmo lui de la tua pace,
poi c'hai pietà del nostro mal perverso.
'if the King of the universe were our friend
we would pray that He might give you peace,
since you show pity for our grievous plight.
Di quel che udire e che parlar vi piace,
noi udiremo e parleremo a voi,
mentre che 'l vento, come fa, ci tace.
'We long to hear and speak of that
which you desire to speak and know,
here, while the wind has calmed.
Siede la terra dove nata fui
su la marina dove 'l Po discende
per aver pace co' seguaci sui.
'On that shore where the river Po
with all its tributaries slows
to peaceful flow, there I was born.
Amor, ch'al cor gentil ratto s'apprende,
prese costui de la bella persona
che mi fu tolta; e 'l modo ancor m'offende.
'Love, quick to kindle in the gentle heart,
seized this man with the fair form taken from me.
The way of it afflicts me still.
Amor, ch'a nullo amato amar perdona,
mi prese del costui piacer sì forte,
che, come vedi, ancor non m'abbandona.
'Love, which absolves no one beloved from loving,
seized me so strongly with his charm that,
as you see, it has not left me yet.
Amor condusse noi ad una morte.
Caina attende chi a vita ci spense."
Queste parole da lor ci fuor porte.
'Love brought us to one death.
Caïna waits for him who quenched our lives.'
These words were borne from them to us.
Quand' io intesi quell' anime offense,
china' il viso, e tanto il tenni basso,
fin che 'l poeta mi disse: "Che pense?"
And when I heard two those afflicted souls
I bowed my head and held it low until at last
the poet said: 'What are your thoughts?'
Quando rispuosi, cominciai: "Oh lasso,
quanti dolci pensier, quanto disio
menò costoro al doloroso passo!"
In answer I replied: 'Oh,
how many sweet thoughts, what great desire,
have brought them to this woeful pass!'
"Poi mi rivolsi a loro e parla' io,
e cominciai: "Francesca, i tuoi martìri
a lagrimar mi fanno tristo e pio.
Then I turned to them again to speak
and I began: 'Francesca, your torments
make me weep for grief and pity,
Ma dimmi: al tempo d'i dolci sospiri,
a che e come concedette amore
che conosceste i dubbiosi disiri?"
'but tell me, in that season of sweet sighs,
how and by what signs did Love
acquaint you with your hesitant desires?'
E quella a me: "Nessun maggior dolore
che ricordarsi del tempo felice
ne la miseria; e ciò sa 'l tuo dottore.
And she to me: 'There is no greater sorrow
than to recall our time of joy
in wretchedness - and this your teacher knows.
Ma s'a conoscer la prima radice
del nostro amor tu hai cotanto affetto,
dirò come colui che piange e dice.
'But if you feel such longing
to know the first root of our love,
I shall tell as one who weeps in telling.
Noi leggiavamo un giorno per diletto
di Lancialotto come amor lo strinse;
soli eravamo e sanza alcun sospetto.
'One day, to pass the time in pleasure,
we read of Lancelot, how love enthralled him.
We were alone, without the least misgiving.
Per più fïate li occhi ci sospinse
quella lettura, e scolorocci il viso;
ma solo un punto fu quel che ci vinse.
'More than once that reading made our eyes meet
and drained the color from our faces.
Still, it was a single instant overcame us:
Quando leggemmo il disïato riso
esser basciato da cotanto amante,
questi, che mai da me non fia diviso,
'When we read how the longed-for smile
was kissed by so renowned a lover, this man,
who never shall be parted from me,
la bocca mi basciò tutto tremante.
Galeotto fu 'l libro e chi lo scrisse:
quel giorno più non vi leggemmo avante."
'all trembling, kissed me on my mouth.
A Galeotto was the book and he that wrote it.
That day we read in it no further.'
Mentre che l'uno spirto questo disse,
l'altro piangëa; sì che di pietade
io venni men così com' io morisse.
While the one spirit said this
the other wept, so that for pity
I swooned as if in death.
E caddi come corpo morto cade.
And down I fell as a dead body falls.
Westbroek fits what might be considered the un-PC old stereotype of opera singers in terms of her appearance, which I once read a characterization of elsewhere as "heavily built, but pretty". She does have nice Dutch girl-next-door looks and is an appealing presence, as well as seeming like a genuinely nice person in the interview. In fact, her English is so unaccented that if you didn't know she was Dutch, you could mistake her for an American. Perhaps she's not the subtlest actress out there, as Steve Smith noted a bit carpingly in his review. But E-MW mentioned in the intermission feature, as she did 2 weeks ago, that she studied with a past noted interpreter of the role, so that presumably this production was a labor of love for her. In fact, that might be at least part of the answer to the final twist of the knife in Smith's review, expressed as a quasi-rhetorical question:
"Still - why?"The answer would seem to be in part that the Met found a soprano whom they thought could handle the role. On the whole, IMHO, she did.
But I suspect that the other part of the answer is latent in the multiple comments that this was the Met's first performances of the work in 27 years. This production is a revival of the mid-1980's production which featured Renata Scotto and Placido Domingo as the romantic leads. In fact, for the time being, if you check out a certain website with the initials YT:
Basically, this production is ultra-traditional to the max. No "Eurotrash" or modernizing at all, but rather lots of painstakingly crafted old-school costumes and sets, set roughly in the 13th century. It was obviously no accident to feature as part of the intermission interviews people in the tech crew, regarding costumes and sets. The tech fellow (actually a supervisor - name escapes me, unfortunately) mentioned that the production was basically in storage in NJ, near Newark Airport. They opened up the storage space, and obviously had to do a lot of touch-up and clean-up to get it ready for a second round of prime time.
In a nutshell, it may be that the Met, having spent all those resources all those years before on this production, didn't want them to go completely to waste. Admittedly, that's not the greatest reason for going to the expense of reviving an opera, and is just pure deadpan snarky speculation on my part.
Beyond E-MW, how about the rest of the cast? Well, starting with Marcello Giordani as Paolo Malatesta, he did OK also. In the intermission banter with Radvanovsky, which was between Acts III and IV, perhaps significantly, there was a certain gritty strain in his speaking voice, perhaps him trying to conserve himself for the stage. Some may remember that he was supposed to sing Aeneas in the run of Les Troyens earlier this season, but that he pulled out pretty quickly. So one has to wonder about his voice now.
Mark Delavan is a bit OTT acting-wise in the Brian Blessed sense (and even vaguely resembles him in physique) as Gianciotto, the deformed brother and husband of Francesca, but certainly not at all lacking in voice. At moments, however, you sense that he does have genuine affection for Francesca, even if she can't return it. However, for Gianciotto, he's the kind of guy for whom violence and conflict are just the way life is. In his intermission chit-chat, he said that he didn't think that Gianciotto was the story's bad guy, and tried not to play him that way, but felt rather that the fathers of the families were the real bad guys, in the "nonexistent prologue" to the story. Of course, that doesn't justify the violence that he ultimately inflicts, even if that was socially acceptable conduct in the 13th century in Italy, regarding cheating wives.
However, the most brutal and vicious character by far is Malatestino, sung by tenor Robert Brubaker, who starts his scene with a bloody eye wound in the battle scene of Act II. Malatestino also lusts after Francesca, but she obviously wants nothing to do with him. That's very understandable, especially given how he deals with the screams of a prisoner in the Malatesta castle's torture chamber, after the screams disturb Francesca's nighttime. He goes down the trap door with an axe, and comes back with a bloody sack. No prizes for guessing what happened. Brubaker gave his own take on the character in his intermission chit-chat (where Delavan had to give him a gentle nudge to hold the mike closer to his face), by saying that Malatestino was always angry because Paolo was the good-looking one, and Gianciotto the one with power, so what was left to Malatestino? In other words, his sadism is an outlet for his inner frustrations, again, not that they're morally correct, but simply understandable.
In fact, that scene with the bloody sack put me in mind of Richard Strauss' opera Salome, particularly the point after the Dance of the Seven Veils where Salome makes a certain demand of Herod regarding the prophet Jokannan. (It's not a pretty demand.) This touches on the larger point of why this opera now isn't a standard repertory work, in the same way that Verdi and Puccini operas are. Zandonai's music is never less than listenable, particularly when the orchestra goes full tilt like in the battle scene or the end of Act IV, Scene 1, as Malatestina has goaded Gianciotto to take his final fatal revenge on Paolo and Francesca. You can hear elements of Puccini, Richard Strauss, and even Debussy in an "impressionist" way in Zandonai's music. The catch is that for all those eclectic influences, it's not completely clear that Zandonai truly has his own musical voice. Granted, this is the only work of his that I've heard, so the judgment might be a little harsh. But one wonders.
The conductor for this production is Marco Armiliato, whom I've mentioned in the past as a "plays well with others" type who looks just a bit like Roberto Benigni. For the most part, his interpretation is pretty straight, no fuss, even if, as Martin Bernheimer noted in his Financial Times review that Armiliato "does little to prevent the orchestra from overpowering the singers". My impression of him hasn't really changed for the better or worse on this showing. Perhaps the orchestra likes him well enough because he does let them rip at times, and I have to admit that even within the confines of satellite-transmitted sound, the orchestra sounded really good and rip-roaring. No problem with hearing the voices over the orchestra in the movie house, but then there is an inherent distortion in experiencing opera like this with the HD-casts, rather than being in the house live.
(In fact, this NYT article by Anthony Tommasini addresses the elephant-in-the-room question of how the Met HD-casts are affecting ticket sales to live performances. But that's a huge topic for another day.)
Youch, long one here, although a bit deceptively so because of the long Dante quote and translation to start with. So with that, feel free to either:
(a) chit-chat about the opera, or
(b) observe the usual SNLC protocol, or
(c) both ;) .
BTW, there's one more Met HD-cast on April 27, Handel's Giulio Cesare. However, I will not be attending that HD-cast and thus I won't be doing an SN@TO that day. If anyone wants to do an SN@TO that day, feel free.