Francesca da Rimini (DVD)
Sara Jakubiak, Jonathan Tetelman, Ivan Inveradi, Charles Workman; Deutsche Oper Berlin Chorus & Orchestra/Carlo Rizzi; dir. Christof Loy (Berlin, 2021)
Naxos DVD: 2.110711; Blu-ray: NBD0142V 140 mins
The most successful opera by Riccardo Zandonai (1883-1944) was premiered in Turin in 1914 – not the most auspicious year in which to launch an international success. Nevertheless, with a libretto drawn by Zandonai’s publisher Tito Ricordi from Gabriele D’Annunzio’s play, Francesca da Rimini would go on to enjoy a limited yet continuing existence at the fringes of the repertoire. The piece can certainly boast a fascinating score that reveals the composer’s extraordinary technical skills, with their combination of opulence and refined sensuality influenced by Debussy and Richard Strauss; here it finds an ideal interpreter in the shape of conductor Carlo Rizzi. In his visually striking modern-dress staging (2021) from the Deutsche Oper Berlin, Christof Loy’s intellectual approach is searching but never overbearing.
Encouraged by her family to marry a Malatesta for political reasons, Sara Jakubiak’s tirelessly lyrical Francesca is led to believe that her husband will be Chilean-American tenor Jonathan Tetelman’s aptly comely Paolo (nicknamed ‘il bello’) – though this is a ruse to disguise the fact that she is instead wedding Ivan Inverardi’s much older and less appealing Gianciotto. When the vile third Malatesta brother, Charles Workman’s darkly powerful Malatestino, decides to make his own play for his sister-in-law, the scene is set for a family tragedy on a grand scale.
What may tell against the piece is that Zandonai’s bejewelled setting occasionally disguises material that is less memorable on its own account; but this is undeniably a work well worth encountering and it could hardly be delivered more convincingly than it is here.