Ponchielli: Marion Delorme

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COMPOSERS: Ponchielli
LABELS: Accord
WORKS: Marion Delorme
PERFORMER: Denia Mazzola-Gavazzeni, Francisco Casanova, Dalibor Jenis, Carlo Cigni; Montpellier Opera Chorus, Latvian Radio Chorus, Montpellier National Orchestra/Friedemann Layer
CATALOGUE NO: 472 613-2
History may have sided with the critics and abandoned a melodrama that was undoubtedly old-fashioned in 1885, but the first audiences at La Scala took Ponchielli’s last opera Marion Delorme to their hearts. So congratulations to Friedemann Layer for this enterprising concert performance.

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Enrico Golisciani’s libretto must shoulder some of the blame for Marion’s brief stage life. Verses hacked out of an unforgiving chunk of history-drama by Victor Hugo adorn a dizzyingly complicated plot that circles a love triangle between the courtesan Delorme, her new young lover Didier and an old flame, the Marquis de Saverny, set at a time when Cardinal Richelieu was the effective ruler of France.

Denia Mazzola-Gavazzeni is a magnetic Marion, even when she pushes her voice in uncomfortable directions. And if Francisco Casanova is more a full-throated tenor than a carefully characterised young lover then that’s the fault of the song not the singer.

The Verdian echoes that run through this score are quickly forgiven: homage to Aida, Otello and even the great friendship duet for Posa and Carlos in Don Carlos when Didier and Dalibor Jenis’s Saverny are on their way to the scaffold for illegal duelling.

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However, in the last act, Ponchielli is his own musician. The simple funeral march that threads its way through the denouement has the mark of death upon it, and if the verses for the tenor’s last aria, ‘Silenzio e tenebre’, are toe-curlingly awful, this is a composer who could always summon up a good tune when required. The problem was that by the 1880s Verdi had taught the world that it took more than melody to make Italian opera grand. Christopher Cook