Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: Koch Schwann
WORKS: Francesca da Rimini
PERFORMER: Elena Filipova, Frederic Kalt; Sofia Chamber Choir, Vienna Volksoper Chorus, Vienna SO/Fabio Luisi
CATALOGUE NO: 3-1368-2
If Pelléas can sometimes sound like Tristan with anaemia, Francesca da Rimini is like a Pelléas on speed. The plots are much alike – bride falls for groom’s brother – and Zandonai helpfully spells out the tragic end by wheeling on a minstrel in Act I to sing us the tale of Tristan and Isolde (complete with lute accompaniment); the guilty lovers’ lips first meet as they read aloud the story of Lancelot and Guinevere. The text is by D’Annunzio after Dante, originally destined for Eleonore Duse – an illustrious lineage – and Zandonai (Mascagni’s pupil, Boito’s protégé) sets it to a heady, almost suffocatingly lush score that draws as deeply on Strauss and Debussy (Roman de la Rose-scented exhalations of his near-contemporary D’Annunzian mystery, Saint Sébastien) as on Italian verismo. The result: a Versace-esque mix of supercharged eroticism and sadomasochistic sex that is utterly intoxicating in its surface allure. This Austrian Radio recording from the 1994 Bregenz Festival (marred only by the odd stage noise) boasts a cast to match: Elena Filipova is an impassioned Francesca (her tone big, blowsy, but undeniably beautiful), Frederic Kalt a virile, vibrant Paolo, Kenneth Riegel characteristically hyperactive as Malatestino, the lust-crazed third brother whose (one-eyed) voyeurism precipitates the fatal crisis. If Zandonai’s opera ends in this world, not the next, thus sparing us the infernal whirlwind that whips its way through both Tchaikovsky’s and Rachmaninov’s retellings of the tale, it nevertheless earns its place beside them. Mark Pappenheim