Zandonai: Francesca da Rimini

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Zandonai
LABELS: Arthaus
WORKS: Francesca da Rimini
PERFORMER: Daniela Dessì, Fabio Armiliato, Giancinta Nicotra, Alberto Mastromarino; Orchestra Filarmonica Marchigiana/Maurizio Barbacini; dir. Massimo Gasparon (Macerata, 2004)
CATALOGUE NO: 101 363 (NTSC system; dts 5.1; 4:3 picture format)

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In an era of Italian opera dominated by Puccini, a number of major talents were rather unjustly overshadowed. Among them was Riccardo Zandonai: a pupil of Mascagni and a protégé of Boito, Zandonai was heir to the full-throated, lyric tradition of Italian opera, but also benefited from the influence of Wagner, Strauss and Debussy. Francesca da Rimini, to a libretto based on one of the steamier episodes of Dante’s Inferno, is his masterpiece.

The opera is a tour de force of ravishing lyricism and occasional dramatic intensity. Its main problem is a somewhat tortuous plot and the librettist’s inability to move the action on with credibly operatic conviction. A prime example is the moment at the end of Act I when Francesca sees Paolo Malatesta for the first time: musically this is astonishingly beautiful, but dramatically it is painfully slow.

Slow pacing is further emphasised by the open-air production: gestures and props are all on the big side and the more intimate moments lack a sense of immediacy. Experienced live, this presentation may well have been memorable, but it does not transfer well to DVD.

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The performance is clearly delivered with devotion and Daniela Dessi and Fabio Armiliato make an attractive pair as the elicit lovers. The orchestral balance, however, is often awry and as a whole there is little comparison with the near-classic Metropolitan Opera version on DG. Jan Smaczny