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)
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.
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