Cher Public

Excess d’estime

“It’s not often operagoers leave humming the scenery, but that was the case Monday, when the Met hauled out Riccardo Zandonai’s Francesca da Rimini from the vault. With neither a top-drawer score nor particularly memorable performances on hand, Piero Faggioni’s lavish 1984 production stole the show.” [New York Post]

  • Loge

    Great review. I was there Monday. I didn’t realize that it was the first night of the revival. MG got terribly lost TWICE in the very short final duet. Maestro Armiliato nearly took off flying he was waving his arms so much trying to get him back on track.

    • DonCarloFanatic

      Now I’m sorry I won’t be seeing Francesca live this weekend. The sets look magnificent, and all indications are that this opera will go into mothballs and stay there. The HD cameras seldom do justice to sets because they’re so busy forcing us to see pore-detailed close-ups of people who really should be seen from a genteel distance.

  • Camille

    La Cieca __
    We children want to know: What Makes a Harmony ‘Creepy’?
    (as opposed to spooky a la Bluebeard, or P&M)

    • J. G. Pastorkyna

      An excess of augmented fourths might be what Mr. Jorden is referring to. Francesca is highfaluting, but it sounds again and again like the Bride of Frankenstein.

      • Belfagor

        Bride of Frankenstein is one of the greatest film scores ever.

        And come to think of it, it sounds like Elsa Lanchester’s acting style is possibly what this revival needs……..

        Where would Hollywood have been if not for the Zandonais, Dukas’, Strauss’s, Schrekers, Korngolds, Montemezzis et al……….!!

      • Camille

        Thank you both for your astute replies.

        According to Monsieur Camille — he tells me he was trying to outdo Wagner with those and, of course, it didn’t work.

        As for the vocal writing of Francesca, Wagner’s crappy vocal writing gets a pass as edgy and experimental because he was first out of the gate. A generation or two later it just sounds amateurish.

        Now I want to listen to the Bride of Frankenstein as I do not know that horror.

        • J. G. Pastorkyna

          Belfagor, I didn’t imply that the Bride’s score was not great. It’s Francesca that’s got a problem if it makes me think of Franz Waxman! It should be the other way around.

          • Belfagor

            JG I quite understood that -- no warries, I was being enthusiastic. I’m sure millions more inhabitants of the planet have heard the Bride of Frankenstein than anything by Zandonai…………!!

  • Belfagor
    • Ilka Saro

      I was there Monday. I agree that the score is problematic, but I also think that the musical performance had some really rough edges, and that orchestra and Armiliato may have needed more rehearsal time than they got. While I was not so bothered as some by Westbroek and Giordani, I think “performances reminiscent of the golden days of verismo” is a bit of a stretch.

      Of the various recordings available, I like Ilva Ligabue’s Francesca quite a bit.

      • Belfagor

        That’s one my favorites too -- she seemed to be very underrated -- I guess another of those lost in the glut of great sopranos in the 60’s……..

      • Camille

        Ilva Ligabue’s performance? On what label is that? Is it an old Cetra? I was all over UTube looking around and did not come across her at all!

        • Belfagor

          I’ve seen the Ligabue on a number of pirate labels -- and I think there are two available, one from RAI from the 60’s c. Sanzogno (available on iTunes/Amazon as a download) , and one from Paris in 76 c. Rescigno. Can’t remember if I’ve heard both or not.

          • traviata136

            Hubby has a recording Nello Santi with Ligabue 1976. Has bonus tracks from Il Masnadieri on that recording too.

          • Gualtier M
          • Camille

            Thank you very much indeed.

            In perusing what is available on UTube I found this, the role model whom Ms. Westbroek cites in her discussions of Francesca:

            http://youtube.com/watch?v=1sPpeKGAAn4

            From just exactly seventy years ago, a type of vocal production and style which just doesn’t exist anymore. Can’t say I am a fan of the bleaty vibrato in any case.

          • Camille

            Favoloso, Gualtier Maldè! More Francescas than ever I dreamed existed!

            Bookmarked, saved and

            Big Bacio 2 U!

          • Ilka Saro

            I have that one, the one with Santi conducting, and Ligabue, Bondino and Protti, with Michel Senechal as Malatestino. Plus the Masnadieri bits.

            I like Ligabue’s phrasing. Other sopranos, even Olivero, approach some passages like they are just trying to get through them, and God knows some of Francesca’s music is brutal. Ligabue makes it all into music. One of those performances that makes me say “Oh, that’s how that is supposed to go.” I say that as a big Olivero fan, and someone who hasn’t ever sought Ligabue out.

          • Camille

            Wow, Ilka Saro, thanks for that recommendation because if you are, as am I, a die-hard Oliverian, and still prefer Ligabue and do not seek her out — only thing I know her as is -- what -- Alice Ford? -- then that is a mighty high recommendation and am now justly curious. If making music out of the phrases is what she is able to accomplish, that is for me!

    • Bianca Castafiore

      Yes, I read these when trying to make up my mind. I decided I’m not going Sat. night…

      • Camille

        Bianca, you MUST go! Camille is going, too! We can see who wears the most dazzling chewells!

        Monsieur Camille tells me he LURVED that production of Bluebeard/Erwartung as it reminded him of MST3K--Battlestar Galactica/Dr. Who. As far as Madame la Jessonda’s stage antics were concerned, well, Erwartung. Needs. Help. As Mars Needs Women.

        See you Saturday soir, darling!

        • Bianca Castafiore

          Cammilyona, I could never compete with your grandeur and pulchritude!!! I’d be overshadowed by you!!!!

          • Camille

            Tut, tut, ma Diva—petite moi is completely overshadowed by Thou.

            Camille does NOT have a Plein named after her in Ye Olde Am’dam!!!

            [She does have a movie and a book deal, come to think of it.]

            Bianca, you will miss a chance to see the sets. I can tell you this much: I played the old VHS of Franny da Rimini dozens of times over but never felt the full impact of what magnificence they are until Monday night. I am afraid you will throw away a very fine opportunity to experience something increasingly rare these days.

            Yours concernedly—
            Petite moi

        • OperaTeen

          Camille! You’ll be there tomorrow as well?!

          • Camille

            Yes, dearest Teen, but as always, Camille is travelling incognita as a Spy in the House of (Opera) Love.

            Please enjoy yourself as, no matter what all else has been said, it is a rare opportunity to see a work of this type, and at the very least can be enjoyed as such.

            Further, it is important you form your own opinion based on your own experience no matter whose opinion you may otherwise respect or cotton up to. It is essential to think for yourself, and to take your time mulling it over.

            Have a happy time, my dear young Opera Teen!

            Kindest and most tender regards from
            Camille

        • Erwartung was a better fit for her than Makropulos Case, wasn’t it? That’s my recollection.

          And she did manage to hold her own last year in competition with Joan LaBarbara and Meredith Monk when the SF “Symphony” did the Cage Songbook (aka The Real Housewives of Black Mountain College).

          • Nerva Nelli

            EM: “Where IS the envelope?”

          • Pronounced “AAAAHN-v’loop”

          • Ha!

          • Camille

            m. c.:
            Go to page 14 of Issue #18 of Parterre Box “Jessye was Dressy”.

            It gives all the poop in the Olde, Original Parterre Style.

            I miss the old Box. It was so much fun in the last millennium.

  • OperaTeen

    Camille(In response to your previous comment),

    Thanks for your advice! Enjoy the show, and if you feel like it,come say hello! I’m in center orchestra around row Z. I’m always ready for an opera related conversation.

    :-)

    Best,
    OT

    • Camille

      Dear OT,

      I would scare you with my haggard old crone visage — think witch in SNOW WHITE — on’t want to stunt your growth, dearie.

      If you see an Old Lady with a bright shiny apple, you will know it is me.

      Don’t listen to the grown-ups anyway. I never did!!! What do THEY know???

      Kindest regards,
      Old Camille

        • louannd

          You bear a striking resemblance to Charlize Theron, lovely. I presume you are wearing Alexander McQueen?

  • Ortrud La douce

    I absolutely disagree. FdR is well worth some boring Mozart or 20th century so-called chefs-d’œuvre and need to be heard more often. That production did not aged and I would prefer to see it a thousand times rather than once of Willy Bonka Dexter Trav.

    • armerjacquino

      Only my personal opinion of course, but when someone starts by calling Mozart boring the rest of the post is pretty much white noise.

      • louannd

        Keep’em coming armerj.

      • Ortrud La douce

        I hope I’ll never be demented enough to say that Mozart is boring. I am the first to admit is music is divine. What I wanted to say is that even in is genial opus there is boring part: Despina’s arias, Zerlina entire part, Blablageno’s Ein mädchen oder weibchen come to my mind. However all come form true universal chefs-d’œuvre. And it upsets me when someone disregards a particularly effective and original piece like FdR because it is not genius all the way. Even in Divine Mozart and some 20th masterpieces contenporary to Zandonai there are flaws.

        • operaassport

          Francesca is rubbish, can’t be mentioned in the same sentence with Mozart.
          Forget water boarding, play Francesca over and over. That’ll break ’em.

          • manou
          • oedipe

            [Britain’s] weaponization of classical music — where Mozart, Beethoven, and other greats have been turned into tools of state repression — marks a new low…

            Wha’d’ye know! Soon we’ll be hearing about state repression in French schools through exposure to the unfamiliar sound of Katherine Jenkins and Sarah Brightman!

          • armerjacquino

            One headteacher in one school.

          • Manou, I find I prefer more aggressive methods of keeping the kids under control (a little NSFW):

          • la vociaccia

            I refused to watch hunger games -- Battle Royale without the style

        • MontyNostry

          I’d rather sit through Francesca than the Flute anytime!

    • bassoprofundo

      “FdR”

      “FroSch”

      the hits just keep on comin’.

      • It’s like you had never seen an acronym before. So peculiar. I ask out of genuine curiosity: do your knickers ever get untwisted?

        • Batty Masetto

          Oh Croche, seriously, you do not want to know more about basso’s knickers ….

  • Ortrud La douce

    Contemporary

  • OperaTeen

    Just got back from Francesca. Giordani lost it at one point. Westbroek was highly improved from the first night.

    • bassoprofundo

      What exactly do you mean by “lost it”?

  • manou

    What exactly do you mean by “lost it”? : He had it, then he could not find it anymore.

    • OperaTeen

      Lost it as in one time he started singing, it was barely a voice coming out of his mouth. He sounded threadbare.

      • tinhtraiviet

        Didn’t you think Giordani might have unintentionally achieved an off-stage pianissimo effect (to blend in with the off-stage servant girls) while singing to Westbroek downstage at the end of Act 3? :-)

  • Nero Wolfe

    Living out of town, I come into NY usually twice a year. I am anxious to see operas I have never seen before and so I was delighted to hear Francesca last night. Certainly not a great opera but worth hearing—once. Now I can scratch that off my list and move on to some other obscure operas.

  • Belfagor

    I’m assuming the orchestra was terminally exhausted this weekend -- I thought they sounded quite rough in ‘Francesca’ last night -- some of the string solos in the third act duo were distinctly sub-par, and the ensemble was all over the place at times. Which was a shame, as the piece has some peculiar textures, which are arresting and unexpected. I didn’t think the conducting let the phrases breathe enough, it all sounded a bit rushed to me -- Levine had so much more control over the intricacies.

    I’m glad to have heard it live, but was disappointed. Giordani was better than I expected, but Westbroeck seemed only to get into some sort of stride by Act 3….comparisons are odious of course, but the preciosity of the style eluded her -- she hadn’t the ability to point certain words and make magic between the phrases.

    Also felt the work has a real problem in the last act -- the destination is too obvious, and the final duet a bit short and the denouement perfunctory. Ah well -- I’ve seen it once!

    • Camille

      And I’ve seen it twice! At least I got to see it up close last night and agree with every single point and I am so glad we both made it there and didn’t miss the boat like in La Nave.

      It’s a small comfort, but it’s something.

      • Belfagor

        Well, the production certainly was a sight to behold -- that, at least, immersed you in the world of the piece. The other brothers were terrific too. And I did get a copy of that elusive Kabaivanska studio recording.

        And the weekend ended with some unexpected magic: the local symphony orch, the Princeton Symphony (a pro outfit, not a University one) which does a series of 5 concerts a year, which has been getting better and better under maestro Rossen Milanov, did a totally captivating performance of Mahler’s ‘Das Lied von der Erde’, with Met finalist Margaret Mezzacappa -- who will be a Mahler voice to watch with time and experience. An incredibly assured and moving performance.

    • MontyNostry

      Just a thought … The British critics are all creaming themselves over George Benjamin’s Written on Skin, which seems a little like a 21st-century take on the whole aesthetic of Francesca (medieval, illicit love, lots of sublimated stuff going on, sensuous, perhaps slightly precious music). Is Benjamin the new Zandonai??? (Only kidding.)

      • manou

        Monty -- do go and see it if you haven’t already. It is truly amazing. I do believe the whole production and cast should be seen as an ensemble -- I see elsewhere that the piece is going to be played as a concert performance, and I can’t think how this would work as well without the visuals.

        Benjamin is to Zandonai as a soufflé is to tiramisù (I know you were joking).

        • MontyNostry

          I wasn’t joking completely, manou. When I saw Francesca a couple of years ago at OHP, I appreciate that Zandonai was aspiring to something more than rip-roaring drama (though the big question is whether he brought it off!). When Paolo and Francesca first see each other and time stops and the viola d’amore (or whatever it is) does its thing, he does achieve something quite elevated.

          Written on Skin does sound like combo of L’amour de loin, that Donizetti opera where the heroine is presented her lover’s heart (is it Gemma di Vergy, Maria di Rudenz or Maria di Rohan?) and that marvellous film Blanche by Walerian Borowczyk.

          • manou

            All I can say is eat your heart out if you miss it.

      • oedipe

        I think Monty may have a point though…

        BTW, it seems that Written on Skin will ALSO be part of the upcoming season at the Opéra Comique! It is an astounding success for a 21st century opera. I remember when it premiered at Aix, people felt they were in the presence of something special, a lasting masterpiece.

        How do we explain this phenomenon? It has nothing in common with some other recent box office successes -such as Anna Nicole-, which focus on issues that are relevant to contemporary audiences and fit perfectly in with today’s ideological trends and fashions.

        • MontyNostry

          oedipe, what do you feel I might have a point about (I was brain-dumping somewhat).

          Never mind Written on Skin at the Opéra-Comique, I wish I’d seen Ciboulette recently!

          • oedipe

            I feel you have a point about the ineffable (whatever it may be, I wish I could define it) that Written on Skin shares with Francesca.

            As for Ciboulette, it was an absolute riot (nothing ineffable there though). Julie Fuchs was delightful as Ciboulette. A very charismatic singer, I predict you will see her A LOT in the coming years. And Jérôme Deschamps, the GM of the Opéra Comique, played the role of the opera manager. Just IMAGINE Gelb or Holten in make-up and playing the part of a grotesque opera GM on the stage of the Met/the ROH!

          • MontyNostry

            The Brits would just **hate** someone for doing that. A Frenchman can somehow get away with it.

            And thank you for understanding what I was trying to say about Francesca. It does aspire to being more than just a ripping good yarn, which is maybe one of the reasons it’s not bursting with good tunes. (Either that, or Zandonai just wasn’t much of a melodist -- I don’t know anything else by him. The esteemed Belfagor could perhaps comment on that.) I think it could work well in a very stylised production which didn’t try to avoid its more precious side.

          • Chanterelle

            Ciboulette was adorable, a real lift on a Friday night, and boy was it packed! I’m trying to imagine sing-alongs at the Met or City Opera.

            Julie Fuchs is indeed a revelation.

      • Belfagor

        The acid test will be if he, or his works will be subject to prolonged discussion in operatic blogs 99 years after the premiere…….

        • Belfagor

          and yes, it can be safely said that Zandonai was not much of a melodist (is George Benjamin?) -- his next big piece ‘Giulietta e Romeo’ is a very close copy of ‘Francesca’ -- pseudo-medieval atmosphere, the melodies are rather too similar for comfort, and the whole effect is of a lesser carbon copy….

          • MontyNostry

            By the way, do any Nuova Scuola works feature cannibalism? Or has Georgie Boy come up with an operatic first there?

          • Belfagor

            No Cannibalism is a bridge too far -- though there is wholesale slaughter of animals and parents in Zandonai’s ‘Giuliano’ of 1928, based on Flaubert’s ‘St Julien l’hospitalier’ from the ‘Trois contes’,and there is a rather more explicit incest fixation than those Volsung twins in Domenico Alaleona’s ‘Mirra’ of 1921……….

          • oedipe

            The acid test will be if he, or his works will be subject to prolonged discussion in operatic blogs 99 years after the premiere…

            Unless, by then, blogs have long ceased to exist and we -they, that is, whoever they may be- communicate without words, directly by means of thought processes, through microchips inserted in our/ their brains…

            One thing that Written on Skin and Francesca have in common, IMO, is the primordial importance of the libretto. Martin Crimp’s libretto is arguably the better of the two, but both create a surreal atmosphere loaded with symbolism and sensuality. In both operas the music is quite atmospheric and almost subservient to the libretto. But I don’t have a problem with that, it’s not bel canto, after all.

            As for the meaning of cannibalism here, a lot can be said about it but I will leave it for another time.

          • Cannibalism figures in a few Chinese operas. There are stories in “Tales of the Water Margin” (later made into operas) of unscrupulous inn-keepers who slaughter travelers to feed later guests. In the Beijing opera “Battling Pu Guan”, the tyrant Pu Guan, short of supplies to feed his hungry and demoralized army, plans to kill his beloved concubine Xu Yanzhen and feed her to his most loyal troops. Intrigues follow. Xu Yanzhen kills herself in front of the man sent to kill her, Li Zhong. He too kills himself. The tyrant Pu Guan orders their bodies prepared to be served to the army, but the soldiers announce that they would rather die of hunger.

            Ah Pu Guan, wicked Pu Guan! If only you had thought to add raspberry sauce!

          • manou

            Of course Written On Skin deals with cardiophagy, not cannibalism.

            (Miserere d’un povero cor…)

          • Waste not, want not.

          • manou

            We should really stop with the offal jokes.

          • Batty Masetto

            Aww, Manou, have a heart!

          • But I thought Parterre was the place to talk tripe…

          • Batty Masetto

            Only for those who have the guts.

          • You’ve got some gall!

          • manou

            Heaven deliver us…

          • MontyNostry

            Liver and let liver, I say!

          • manou

            Yes, maybe we should not vent our spleen.

          • rapt

            I’m not sure parterre can take much more of this kidney.

          • manou

            It is true that most Parterrians do not go alung with this kind of blather.

          • rapt

            Surely even an operatic part-timer like Urethra Franklin would find it hard to stomach.

          • manou

            This makes a fitting appendix to all the lungacy.

          • oedipe

            I think you are getting confused, Manou. Surely you meant to say they do not go alung with this kind of bladder.

          • manou

            erm…..that WAS the joke oedipe. Ça ne raté pas toujours…

          • manou

            RATE RATE RATE!!! Damn autocorrect!

          • Bianca Castafiore

            Ma che lingua!!!!!!

        • 5 stars everywhere for this new Benjamin opera, even from Mr. Clark and Mr. Christiansen:

          A score that is ultra-sophisticated, subtle and often extremely sensuous, but also capable of the bestial and guttural.

          http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/2/50e6f0a4-8a3d-11e2-9da4-00144feabdc0.html?ftcamp=published_links%2Frss%2Flife-arts_music%2Ffeed%2F%2Fproduct#axzz2NCxsMzrX

          In its dreamy yet crystalline beauty, it shows the lineaments of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande, with richly expressive vocal lines and delicately lucid instrumental colouring

          The best since Wozzeck (1922) by Alban Berg. In other words, Written on Skin is the pinnacle of contemporary output (Renaud Machart)

          Igor Toronyi Lilac is the only doubter:

          It’s careful, neat, safe, po-faced music that dutifully hangs on every word, confirming its dramatic or psychological meaning, but rarely if ever adding anything fresh to it. It’s a score low on inspiration and high on pedantry.

          http://www.theartsdesk.com/opera/written-skin-royal-opera

          Sadly, the entire opera was removed from Youtube this afternoon after someone uploaded the Aix performance just 5 days ago. I was to going to record it tonight, drop my current opera listening and begin a complete aural analysis/assimilation to see what all the fuss is about… (SIGH)

  • Regina delle fate

    Well, Monty., the French and German critics also creamed themselves when this production was world-premiered in Aix and the reviews have been consistently positive in Amsterdam, Toulouse and Florence where it has already been seen.

    @ Manou -- it’s also bing presented in this production at the Munich (Prinzregententheater) and Vienna (Theater an der Wien) festivals -- not in concert.

    • MontyNostry

      Regina, they all raved about The Lighthouse too, and look what a mess that was. ;-)

    • manou

      Yes I know -- but I think Liz.S said it would be performed in concert at one of the US summer festivals (Glimmerglass?).

      • MontyNostry

        Well, manou, I’ve bought a ticket for Saturday now. Let’s see how it goes! Shame the ROH website is misleading about the prices of the seats that are available. Nothing at £55 left, as far as I can tell, so one has to go for discounted full-fat at £65.

        • manou

          I am offering a 30-day money back guarantee!

          • MontyNostry

            Cross your, erm, heart, manou?

          • manou

            Satisfait ou remboursé!

            Do hope you will not be disheartened…

          • MontyNostry

            Mon coeur sera mis à nu in a report on here, I’m sure.

      • Liz.S

        Tanglewood, it is… :-)
        I only had a “luxury” of watching the premiere thru the Internet on Arte Live last Summer but IMHO, too, this is truly a masterpiece. Lucky are those who get to see this live, staged and with these casts…

        • louannd

          Maybe we will get lucky and Santa Fe will program it. Wouldn’t be until 2015 or later though.

          • ianw2

            It does seem like its almost tailor-made for Santa Fe. Though the way Philly is going, they may have some competition.

      • Nerva Nelli

        No, rather at Tanglewood in Western Massachusetts.