Mirella Freni (Princess Fedora Romazoff), Adelina Scarabelli (Countess Olga Sukarew), Plácido Domingo (Count Loris Iranoff), Alessandro Corbelli (De Siriex)
Chorus and Orchestra of La Scala, Milan c. Gianandrea Gavazzeni, p. Lamberto Puggelli, d. Luisa Spinatelli video director Lamberto Puggelli
TDK 24121 00197 (113 minutes)
Both Fedoras available on DVD have the partnership of Freni and Domingo; this one, live from La Scala in 1993, predates an earlier release of a Metropolitan Opera outing in 1997. Here, Freni in her late fifties, gives a committed performance nicely charting a course from icy hauteur in Act 1 to some sterling scenery chewing in the last act. Freni's lyric voice, which by the 1990's was inevitably riper, led her to explore some of these dustier old verismo warhorses, notably Adriana Lecouvreur, and more enterprisingly, Giordano's washerwoman-meets-Napoleon rarity Madame Sans-Gêne. Though she inhabits the role of Fedora admirably, temperamentally she is a degree or two too placid, lacking the range of vocal colour and the quicksilver verbal pointing that more accomplished singing actresses, like Magda Olivero and Renata Scotto, bring to the role - though, to be fair, Freni's vocalism is securer and, indeed, lustrous on occasion. In this performance, she takes some of the upper options in the score, which she had relinquished by the time of the Met performances four years later. Plácido Domingo is vital and dashing and sings with his customary amplitude; and he and Freni interact well in the big scenes, really striking sparks in the Act two duet and the denouement. Alessandro Corbelli, luxury casting for the ungrateful role of the diplomat de Siriex, brings real acting versatility to bear; and Adelina Scarabelli is a gutsier than usual Countess Olga, who gets the usually cut little song in Act two about the failings of French men. The performance is prefaced by a tribute to the octogenarian maestro, Gavazzeni, marking this, his last appearance at La Scala. His shaping of the intermezzo is indulgent, but most sumptuous, though his affectionate reading of the score shows up the numerous bald patches that appear in this opera when the composing stops and the music continues.
The stock production features some beautiful backdrops, against which the rather cluttered realism of the props and furniture don't quite work - and some of the comings and goings in the first act are confusing. Freni fans will enjoy this document, and no doubt enjoy the rather faded production qualities, as well. I can't help thinking this Russian espionage pot-boiler would be given a new lease of life updated by an Alden or a Bieto, set in our very own Moscow-on-the-Thames; the Alpine idyll of the last act a Mayfair raclette restaurant lit by polonium........I'd pay good money to see that!
© Julian Grant 2007
Angela Gheorghiu (Fedora Romazov), Nino Machaidze (Olga Sukarev), Marina Comparato (Dmitri), Plácido Domingo (Loris Ipanov), Nicola Pamio (Désiré), Enrico Casari (Rouvel), Bernard Villiers (Sergio), Fabio Maria Capitanucci (De Siriex), Federico Longhi (Borov), Nabil Suliman (Lorek), Bernard Giovani (Michele), Alex Esposito (Cirillo), Giuseppe Scorsin (Grech) Pedro Leandro (Un piccolo savoiardo [boy sop.]), Salvatore Percacciolo – Boleslao Lazinski [pianist])
Orchestre symphonique et chœurs de la Monnaie c. Alberto Veronesi
Deutsche Grammophon 477 8367 (2 discs) 96 minutes
Released to coincide with Plácido Domingo‘s 70th birthday celebrations, this recording dates from three years ago. Given Fedora’s reputation as a vehicle for a prima-donnas of a certain age, I wondered if the indefatigable (‘If I rest, I rust’) Domingo, might be exploring a new fach by essaying the title role, but no, he confines himself to Loris, long a staple of his repertoire. He acquits himself well, though not surprisingly, his top notes (not too high in this opera) have an intermittent wiry vibrato, and he cannot deliver honeyed piano singing to the extent he once could. Still, the phrasing is musical, and his declamation and detailed dramatic responses are as alive as ever. You can, however, find him in his late prime on the two commercially available DVDs of this opera (both with Mirella Freni) from the 1990’s, though better still was an exciting account of the extended Act 2 duet on a 1979 album with Renata Scotto, (never released on CD) that displays a chemistry sadly lacking here.
Fedora, (like Tosca) originated as a vehicle for Sarah Bernhardt by French dramatist Victorien Sardou. Its mix of old fashioned melodrama with ‘modern’ accretions (telephones, bicycles, Nihilists) proved potent, and it was a smash hit. The interrogations that form the meat of the drama, are wordy, and it is a tribute to Giordano’s operatic craft that these realistic scenes move at a cracking pace: they may be short on musical continuity and substance, but contain exciting opportunities for vocalism and declamation. The title role requires temperament, and outsize charisma to transform tosh into tragedy, not to mention an alert response to text and vocal acting. The lyrical, sustained portions of the role are short-lived and not as important, which is possibly why sopranos of a certain age are drawn to the role. Though Angela Gheorghiu has not sung Fedora live, she has featured verismo roles in her stage repertoire, though she is more naturally a Mimì, Magda or Suzel (in L’amico Fritz) than a Tosca, or Adriana. Here, one feels she is the wrong voice in the wrong role – it’s all too soft focus. Her outburst against the Nihilists in Act One ‘Son gente risoluta’ that culminates in swearing a vow of revenge on her cross – thematically and dramatically a very important moment – lacks fervour, and in the celebrated scene where she wrestles a confession of murder from Loris (with onstage piano recital as background), she sounds more victim than arch-manipulator. Unsurprisingly, she is no match for Magda Olivero in the definitive studio recording of Fedora (Decca 1969) in temperament, range of vocal colour and verismo style. The opera suffers as a result; needing a protagonist with far more fire to avoid sounding shortbreathed and bitty. And how can you have a Fedora without a functioning chest register?
The supporting cast is good, with Fabio Maria Capitanucci alive to the Machiavellian qualities of the detective De Siriex. Nino Machaidze sparkles as man-mad Countess Olga – she even gets her often cut song back about the qualities of French men. In some of the quick give- and-take in the party scene in Paris, and the almost buffo bicycle scene in Switzerland, her middle register can be easily mistaken for Gheorghiu’s – one should not be able to confuse a soubrette with a monstre sacré.
Continuing a series of rare and rar-ish late romantic Italian works for DG, many with Domingo, Alberto Veronesi contributes a detailed account of Giordano’s score, in particular highlighting its orchestral debt to Tchaikovsky’s late style - though this is no compensation for some scrappy passagework and a distinct lack of overall voltage. Maybe in deference to star demand, the few lyrical passages are dwelt on unduly, and there are a few fleeting moments of unsteady ensemble and inflexible tempi that make one wonder if the singers were, at times, post-synched. The final scene in particular suffers from this stop-go approach, whereas Lamberto Gardelli on the Olivero recording makes the increasingly melodramatic revelations a real roller-coaster ride, propelling Giordano’s piecemeal structure into a satisfying whole. Recording quality is very present, though in general too spotlit – the very filmic, hushed intermezzo loses its shadowy unease, and there are no true pianissimi.
It is also short value for two CD’s – the Olivero reissue on Decca Grand Opera (nla – but available as a download) contains 45 minutes of excerpts from Zandonai’s Francesca da Rimini, with Olivero and Del Monaco. No contest!
A shame Domingo didn’t celebrate his birthday by adding something rarer to his catalogue, or if he really wanted to do this work, find a Fedora, not a Fedorina.
© Julian Grant 2011