This Saturday at Grass Valley’s Del Oro Theatre Sierra Theaters presents Zadonai’s “Francesca da Rimini” as the latest offering of The Met Opera Live in HD.
Something exciting for opera fans: a new work! Yes, from 1914! OK, not new, but the likelihood of any of us having seen this is, well, slim. Depicting an episode in Dante’s Inferno, Riccardo Zadonai’s “Francesca da Rimini” tells the story of adulterous love and its fateful consequences. Rooted in actual occurrence, the story as told largely draws from Gabriele d’Annunzio’s theatrical adaptation of Dante’s tale. The setting is medieval Italy, as two factions vie for control, the Ghibelines and the Guelphs. In fact, Dante himself was caught up in this conflict, leading to his exile from his native Florence. Much of his “Inferno” is protracted poetic revenge against his political enemies. In the opera, in a marriage of political convenience to the deformed Gianciotto, Francesca falls in love with his brother Paolo. Though their love is real, this is opera, and it’s Italy, and things do not go well.
Musically the work departs from the then-reigning Italian style. The verismo of Puccini, Leoncavallo, Mascagni and others, down and dirty works such as “Cavalleria rusticana” or “I Pagliacci,” reflecting the real-life struggles of everyday people, had lost its shock factor. Francesca returns Italian opera to a grander form. The Met website describes its musical soundscape as “a marvelous synthesis of French Impressionism, post-Wagnerian grandeur and the emotional intensity of Italy’s own verismo.” Unmistakable influences are Debussy and Richard Strauss: color and texture define the work as opposed to arias and traditional set pieces. Zadonai uses madrigal-like ensembles to place courtly life in sonic context while more aggressive and dissonant sounds reflect the battles waged through Act 2. Searching for innovation and seeking to distance himself from the conventions of Italian opera, rather than the expected love duet signifying the lovers’ meeting, Zadonai chooses a cello solo to underscore the event.
There have been something like 25 operas dealing with this story, but only Zadonai’s treatment still has life, rarely performed though it may be. Concert-goers may be familiar with Tchaikovsky’s tempestuous overture of the same name. After a season of largely familiar, well seasoned works from the repertoire (some exceptions of course: “Les Troyens,” for example), how grand to find something new. See you there!
John Deaderick is a local theater instructor, director, actor, and the author of Make Sweet the Minds of Men: Early Opera and Tragic Catharsis, available at Amazon.com.