Marcia Rowe, Gleaner Writer
After nearly three decades, Metropolitan Opera produced a grit-teeth revival of Italian, Ricardo Zandonai's Francesca da Rimini.
Through the Met Opera Live on Screen at Carib, opera lovers in Jamaica were able to traverse the tragic love story of Francesca, played by soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek and her lover and brother-in-law Paolo, portrayed by tenor and Italian born Marcello Giordani.
With strong support from Ezio Frigerio's set, and Franca Squarciapino costumes the four-act opera moved from an opening of humour (light) to shame and death (darkness).
The Dante's Inferno-inspired opening act illustrates the first meeting between Francesca and Paolo, whom she was led to believe she will marry. They at once fall deeply in love. But, instead of Paolo, Francesca is tricked, for political reason, into marrying the deformed and cruel Giovanni, Paolo's brother, played by baritone Mark Delavens.
But it is in act two, in the height of an attack on the Malatesta palace, the home of her husband, Paolo confesses his love to Francesca. And 'Zandonai's melodic gem' heightens the relationship of the two in act three. Like the lovers in the legendary story of Guinevere and Lancelot, being read to her ladies, by Francesca, her relationship with Paolo soars to another level with their first kiss.
The gripping act four is divided into two parts. Part one reveals that Francesca's mean and cunning younger brother-in-law, Malatestino, played by tenor Robert Brubaker, is also in love with her. She tells her husband, who confronts his brother. In return, without Francesca's knowledge, he sings of the relationship between her and Paolo. This results in the demise of the two lovers.
The four principals gave compelling performances. Westbroek, with her rich soprano vocals, captured the various emotional states of her character. Giordani too was splendid, except when he abandoned the facial expression for his musical cue. Brubaker was just as good in his portrayal of the blood-thirsty, yet carefree Malatestino. This was more evident in one of the dark moments in act four when Malatestino boasts about silencing his prisoner, whose screams has affected Francesca's nightly sleep.
The best portrayal of the opera, however, goes to Delavenes. The power and cruelty of Gianciotto was captured in his strong stage presence and the richness of his baritone vocal. Moving with ease in the 13th-century Italy costume, and not dropping a note, he remained true to his character's spirit and drive.
Choreographer Donald Mahler and conductor Marco Armiliato's creativity added intense entertainment value to the production. On the other hand, designers Squacianino and Frigerio not only made the visual true to the period, but reinforced the journey of light to darkness through the use of colours. This progression was quite evident in Francesca's costumes and her chamber.
Generally, Francesca da Rimini is well worth seeing, but for the cinema audience, the behind-the-scenes interviews and other happenings, like set changes, are priceless. The conclusion to the Met Opera Live in HD series at Carib 5 ends in April with Giulio Cesare.