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Strait is the Gate

Teatro del Maggio Musical Fiorentino
01/17/2020 -  & January 19, 21, 23, 2020
Franco Alfano: Risurrezione
Anne Sophie Duprels (Caterina Mikaïlowna (Katiusha)), Matthew Vickers (Prince Dimitri Ivanovitch Neludoff), Leon Kim (Simonson), Francesca Di Sauro (Sofia Ivanovna), Romina Tomasoni (Materna Pavlovna, Anna), Nadia Pirazzini (An old servant), Anna Victoria Pitts (Vera, La Korableva), Barbara Marcacci (Fenitchka), Filomena Pericoli (La Gobba), Nadia Sturlese (La Rossa), Silvia Capra (Una donna), Lisandro Guinis (Kritsloff, Secondo contadino), Gabriela Spina (Capo Guardiano), Nicolò Ayroldi (Un impiegato della stazione), Nicola Lisanti (Un ufficiale, Primo contadino), Egidio Massimo Naccarato (Un mujich), Antonio Montesi (Un cosacco), Giulia Bruni/Silvia Romani (Fedia), Delia Palmieri (Prima detenuta), Monica Marzini (Seconda detenuda), Giovanna Costa (Terza detenuta), Livia Sponton, Sabina Beani, Katja De Sarlo, Nadia Pirazzini (Altre detenute)
Coro del Maggio Musical Fiorentino, Lorenzo Fratini (chorus master), Orchestra del Maggio Musical Fiorentino, Francesco Lanzillotta (conductor)
Rosetta Cucchi (stage director), Tiziano Santi (sets), Claudia Pernigotti (costumes), Ginevra Lombardo (lighting, based on D. M. Wood’s original design for Wexford Festival Opera)

M. Vickers (© Michele Monasta)

“Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it,” says the Pastor to Alissa, heroine of André Gide’s La Porte étroite. This biblical citation – Luke, XIII, 24 – is also the essence of Alfano’s rarely performed opera, Risurrezione (1902), based on Tolstoy’s homonymous novel. It is often the less easy choice that makes one worthy. Such was the choice of the heroine Katiusha at the end of the opera.

The opera recounts the story of the naive servant girl Katiusha infatuated with her mistress’s nephew with whom she used to play as a child. Now, a military man, Prince Dimitri seduces the poor girl during a visit to his aunt’s country estate. This happens on Easter eve while the peasants in the nearby church chant “The Lord is Risen”. The same chorus is sung at the end of the opera when Katiusha refuses the Prince’s offer to marry her after having obtained her discharge from her Siberian exile. Instead, she prefers to marry the political prisoner Simonson, though she still loves Dimitri and though he remains her only love.

In this production originally staged by D.H. Wood and imported from the Wexford Festival, stage director Rosetta Cucchi chose to give distinct colours to the opera’s four acts. One suspects that she chose them as representing the four seaons, though they are not in sequence. The first act when the seduction takes place is at Easter time, hence Spring, when young Katiusha is innocent and amorous. The second act is when the pregnant Katiusha, ejected from Sofia Ivanovna’s household, awaits the Prince’s arrival at the train station to inform him of her condition, but she is refused entry into the station. While waiting outside under the snow, she sees him from a distance with a heavily made up woman. At this bleak moment, she loses all hope. One can easily assume this act to represent winter. Though this is a short scene in Tolstoy’s novel, Alfano successfully made into an entire act.

The third act takes place in a workhouse where prisoners await their fate. This dark act probably represents autumn. The final act has a summer feel despite the harsh conditions of the Siberian camp through the bright lighting and especially through a final tableau where Katiusha and her alter ego – Katiusha as a child – are seen playing in golden wheat fields. This alter ego is seen in several scenes throughout the opera. It is Katiusha’s connection to her past and to her innocence.

French soprano Anne Sophie Duprels is ideally-suited for this demanding role, which requires a powerful lirico spinto voice which she definitely has. Her timbre is pleasant and distinct. Her interpretation of the opera’s most famous Act II aria, “Dio pietoso, fa ch’il venga alfin” was moving without falling into the histrionics associated with verismo singing. She also has the stamina for this demanding role which requires her to be on stage nearly the entire opera. Lastly, this role requires immense stage presence, and Duprels easily dominates the stage. A great singing actress, Duprels portrays the different facets of Katiusha from the starry-eyed ingenue, the desperate fallen women, the hardened prostitute and finally the blessed soul who has the grace and courage to make a difficult choice.

This opera has wonderful richly-orchestrated music and three well-defined protagonists that one can easily like. Despite her sinking low into prostitution and a life of prison and exile to Siberia, Katiusha remains a lovely spirit. She is kind to her fellow inmates and generous to the sick and weak in the Siberian camp. Even Dimitri shows his humanity by attempting to save Katiusha and to redeem himself for ruining her life. American tenor Matthew Vickers is a revelation: he is an impressive dramatic tenor without the baritonal aspect so rife in such tenors. His timbre is pleasant, his technique refined. Despite a huge instrument, he is able to sing softly when the role requires it. In his final duet with Katiusha, “Ed ora, va... parti!... Son felice!!!”, he is both heroic and subdued. Korean baritone Leon Kim does justice to the brief but important role of the political prisoner Simonson. His rendition of the aria “Quando la vidi, una voce mi disse” was moving and nuanced.

Best known as the orchestrator of Turandot’s posthumous ending, Franco Alfano composed some twelve operas that are absent from the repertoire. Risurrezione was premiered in 1904, around the same decade as many verismo operas. Alfano’s opera is vastly superior to several such operas that are still frequently performed. So why is it so rarely performed? The answer is three-fold: the difficulty of finding an appropriate interpreter of the demanding role of Katiusha, the scarcity of distinct arias for the public to retain and the over twenty characters that signify a major production budget. With the MET recently mounting Alfano’s Cyrano de Bergerac, one hopes that other opera companies will have the courage to mount Risurrezione as well as other Alfano operas.

Ossama el Naggar



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