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Riccardo Zandonai: Francesca da Rimini, Op. 4
Sara Jakubiak (Francesca), Jonathan Tetelman (Paolo il Bello), Ivan Inverardi (Giovanni lo Sciancato), Charles Workman (Malatestino dall’Occhio), Alexandra Hutton (Samaritana), Samuel Dale Johnson (Ostasio), Meechot Marrero (Biancofiore), Mané Galoyan (Garsenda), Arianna Manganello (Altichiara), Karis Stucker (Adonella), Amira Elmadfa (Smaragdi), Andrew Dickinson (Ser Toldo Berardengo), Dean Murphy (Il giullare), Patrick Cook (Il balestiere, Prisoner’s voice), Thomas Lehman (Il torrigiano), Chorus of the Deutsche Oper Berlin, Jeremy Bines (Chorus Master), Orchestra of the Deutsche Oper Berlin, Carlo Rizzi (Conductor), Christof Loy (Stage Director), Johannes Leiacker (Set Designer), Klaus Bruns (Costume Designer), Olaf Winter (Lighting Designer), Götz Filenius (Video Director)
Recording: Deutsche Oper Berlin (14 & 17 March 2021) – 140’
Naxos of America DVD 2.110711 (or Blu ray NBD0142V) – HD 16.9 – DTS Master Audio 5.1 – Regions A, B, C – Sung in Italian – Subtitles in Italian, English, French, German, Korean and Japanese – Booklet in English, Italian and German

The doomed love story of Italian noblewoman Francesca da Rimini (her real name was Francesca da Polenta), who died c. 1283 has inspired many composers besides Zandonai: Mercadante, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky, Goetz, Thomas, Rachmaninoff; authors: Dante, Boccaccio, D’Annunzio: sculptors and painters: Koch, Rodin, Ingres, Dyce, Delacroix, Doré, to name just a few. Only Arthur Brooke’s The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet (1562) did better.

Zandonai wrote thirteen operas, but his fame rests largely on Francesca da Rimini (1914). The work is rarely performed and, to our knowledge, only three DVDs exist at this day: Metropolitan Opera, 2007 (Levine/Scotto/McNeil/Domingo), Sferisterio di Macerata, 2004 (Dessi/Armiliato/Mastromarino). And this glorious 2021 production of the Berlin Opera.

Stage Director Christof Loy moves the action from the Middle Ages to contemporary Europe. The stage consists of a vast flexible space, tall grey walls, occasionally opening on a wide bay window located backstage; foggy at times, covered with blood, or overlooking a large reproduction of (what appears to be) a painting by Claude Lorrain. Chilling, intense, and so stylish. Under Loy's meticulous direction, the cast unanimously performs to excellence, vocally and dramatically.

Despite a perfectible Italianate style, Jakubiak is totally convincing in the title role. She is charismatic with sturdy, secure singing lines and a multi-faceted dramatic soprano. She rises above Freni and Dessi, who, in their days, were excellent. Jonathan Tetelman in Paolo is romantic to perfection, with an alluring dark tenor. Likewise, Charles Workman is reaching tragic grandeur in his portrayal of the abject, pervert Malatestino. Last but not least, baritone Ivan Inverardi is a powerful Giovanni lo Sciancato, maintaining with great distinction the worrisome and restrained attributes of this character.

In the pit, Maestro Rizzi delivers a stunning performance, brilliantly navigating between boisterous moments and more intimist passages.

With this Francesca da Rimini, the Berlin Opera reaches an unattained level of quality. It unquestionably surpasses any other video capture of this opera. We are here in the “near-perfect.” Maybe this will help Zandonai’s work gain more – and so deserved – popularity? It is about time.

Christian Dalzon




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