Cher Public

From Hell

Once upon a time, when the Met was in flux and New York City Opera was flourishing across the plaza, maestra Eve Queler founded the Opera Orchestra of New York which specialized in one-night-only concerts of three or four rarities each year at Carnegie Hall.  In March 1973, OONY’s second season featured Francesca da Rimini starring Raina Kabaivanska, Plácido Domingo and Matteo Manuguerra. 

By the mid-2000s the company began to struggle and cutback its season to one opera.  Despite a brief resurgence, the company, which presented over 90 operas on 57th Street, has virtually disappeared.  Its most recent outing was Parasina d’Este over a year ago at Rose Hall at Jazz at Lincoln Center.  Its Web site has not since been updated.

Among its accomplishments were many American premieres, including EdgarNerone, and Libuse.  It also imported international stars for their New York debuts and through a young artists program fostered the careers of the likes of Renée Fleming, Vivica Genaux, and Deborah Voigt.

Riccardo Zandonai’s best-known opera (of four) hadn’t been heard in New York since the Met gave it 11 times two years after the opera’s 1914 premiere at the Teatro Reggio, with Frances Alda, Giovanni Martinelli, and Pasquale Amato in every performance.

66 years later, a lavish new production was mounted for Renata Scotto, Domingo, and Cornell MacNeil, notably telecast on 7 April 1984 and available on DVD.  Given 26 times in two seasons, it got lost again until a 2013 revival with Eva-Maria Westbroek, Marcello Giordani, and Mark Delavan.

Aside from the Met telecast, it has been commercially recorded exactly twice: in 1950 with Maria Caiglia, and in 2013 by Theater Freiburg.  A pirate with Magda Olivero (who also recorded excerpts for Decca in 1969) and Mario Del Monaco is quite juicy.

Based on a true story immortalized by Dante Alighieri in the Divina Commedia, Francesca provided the inspiration for no less than 27 operas between 1823 and 1914, mostly by forgotten composers (Salvatore Papparlado?) but including Saverio Mercadante, Ambroise Thomas, and Sergei Rachmaninoff, whose treatments occasionally get dusted off.  It’s more likely that concertgoers and record collectors know it as a symphonic poem by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

  • southerndoc1

    Many of us will remember Opera Orchestra for presenting Madame Caballe in several of her greatest New York cancellations.

    • Rick

      Which operas did Ms Caballé cancel at OONY? I am aware she sang Parisina d’este, Gemma di Vergy and Aroldo.

      • CCorwinNYC

        She dropped out of Massenet’s Herodiade which continued with a sub, but when she withdrew from Mercadante’s Virginia the entire thing was canceled.

      • PCally

        She also cancelled a planned Semiramide around 1983 I believe. If you look up old issues of New York Magazine, Peter Davis uses this opportunity to write a pretty blistering response to her cancellation and her artistry (or lack there of in his opinion). June Anderson was her replacement (Davis doesn’t seem to have many nice things to say about her either).

        • CCorwinNYC

          The Semiramide wasn’t an OONY presentation.

          • PCally

            I stand corrected.

        • gryphone

          Interesting. It WAS 1983 and I was at that concert. We were all disappointed in Caballe’s cancellation, but IMO June Anderson was just fine.

  • Quanto Painy Fakor
    • ines

      I ‘ve had a real throw-back weekend with many great sopranos of the past. Mirella Freni is always present for me, but Mafalda Favero, Rosetta Pampanini and Pia Tassinari brought a lot of joy past Sunday ( as well as the few seconds of Netrebko’s Adriana on Instagram….) But facing a long trip by car I put on Maria Chiara’s Decca recitals, and while not warming up to her acting some 30 years ago… she is a great soprano

  • Lindoro Almaviva

    May i offer a correction to the above article? Francesca actually has been recorded more than just twice. Aside from the Caniglia and the Freiburg recordings, RCA recorded it with Kabaicanska. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/53a2198b03929c62bab9b42f6e1f8b1af167c1d39e7e653d8624d1664e59984a.jpg

    There also seems to be a Studio/life conflagration with Ilba Ligaube. from 1976 https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/53a2198b03929c62bab9b42f6e1f8b1af167c1d39e7e653d8624d1664e59984a.jpg

    Lastly, the Bregenz festival seems to have issued a recording of their 1994 production as well.
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/cdfaa5b25752356983f6b1262b13865b2d5864ffac492e107946d608e98dc7a1.jpg

    I hope this little correction lifts the spirits of anyone who is inspired to search for more recordings of this opera

  • Lindoro Almaviva

    May I offer a correction to the above article? Francesca actually has been recorded more than just twice. Aside from the Caniglia and the Freiburg recordings, RCA recorded it with Kabaicanska in the 80s.
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/53a2198b03929c62bab9b42f6e1f8b1af167c1d39e7e653d8624d1664e59984a.jpg

    There also seems to be a Studio/life conflagration with Ilba Ligaube. from 1976.
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/049b97e66fc4a604d0199eac31660b8614dae6fec849e2f82ccfcb49986f4355.jpg

    Lastly, the Bregenz festival seems to have issued a recording of their 1994 production as well.
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/cdfaa5b25752356983f6b1262b13865b2d5864ffac492e107946d608e98dc7a1.jpg

    Hope this helps anyone inspired by the recording Marianne offers us and looking for more

    • Thanks! None of these recordings are listed at Amazon.com or in the Wikipedia entry for recordings of the opera. I imagine they must be pretty damned hard to find!

      • Lindoro Almaviva

        Actually, they are all listed in Amazon, but some f them are going at collector prizes.

        the RCA/Kabaivanka recording is originally a Bulgarian/Italian effort that was released by RCA in the USA. It is listen int the Metropolital Opera Guide to Recorded Opera but it does not give it high marks, epically to Mateuzzi as Paolo. I have a copy of it if you are interested in hearing it.

  • Camille

    This is a great boon as Herr Krunoslav has spoken repeatedly of the Kabaivanska Francesca and I’ve finally been convinced of her interpretation after his repeated postings of “Paolo, datemi pace”, and certainly this live recording will far exceed the canned version.

    Where to find the time to listen, however, as I just last night suddenly jerked back into the awareness of never having listened to that live Tristan with Dernesch last year, and which I had keenly wanted to hear, but the requisite time to do so is intruded upon by so much banal reality…hélas!

    Aber Vielen Dank, Ewig und Ewig, Gnädisssima Jungfer!