THE Metropolitan Opera's penultimate presentation in the 2012-2013 Live in HD series, Riccardo Zandonai's Francesca da Rimini, while remaining true in quality, did not marvel the audience.
Set in 13th century Italy, the opera is written of a fair maiden's ability to attract the advances of three brothers. Francesca is tricked into marrying the cruel Gianciotto Malatesta, but falls desperately in love with his younger brother, Paolo. He loves her with equal intensity, but they respect the pairing until their emotions could no longer be quenched by distance. While reading of Lancelot and Guinevere's illicit love in the story of King Arthur, they're unable to resist any longer. The lovers, however, suffer at the plot of third brother Malatestino, himself having made rebuffed advances to Francesca, and are subsequently murdered by Gianciotto.
The on-stage performances truly added variety to the simplicity and familiarity of the tragedy. Eva-Maria Westbroek (Francesca) was in fantastic tone and demonstrated prowess in controlling her vocal instrument. Her paramours Marcello Giordani (Paolo), tenor; baritone Mark Delavan (Gianciotto) and tenor Robert Brubaker as the conniving Malatestino lent their talents to the quality of the Met's staging.
The score was seemingly a delight for conductor Marco Armiliato and his orchestra as they were truly interpretative of the varied moods; from raging battle to the gentleness of fluttering lovebirds. The conductor - his first performance of the work - likened the score, in an intermission interview, to the techniques of Puccini, Strauss and Mascagni.
Staged in four acts (Act IV having two parts) the storyline unfolds rather slowly, with the audience limbering along as Gianciotto hobbled on stage in a successful portrayal of what the playbill describes as his "deformity". Of note, however, was that Act III was a modest, yet intimate courtship dance with a sweet love duet - a musical delight. And when Francesca's ladies did sing they stood a close second to the leading lady, performing soli, duets and a trio with the elegance reminiscent of The Flower Duet from Lakme' or Mendelssohn's Lift Thine Eyes (Elijah).
The set was of exquisite simplicity, though moving from war front to Francesca's chambers, with particular attention paid to details of the period, such as Italian trap doors and reading lecterns. Costuming was the strongest element of the production. The cast donned stunning hand-embroidered pieces, some restored from the Met's last staging of the opera some three decades ago. The colour scheme moving from pastels to warm reds as the mood darkened.
All elements considered, the opera was a savoury snack to the small audience at Carib 5. It did not dazzle as others in the series; of note Otello, Aida, and Maria Stuarda.
There remains much anticipation for the final in this series Guilio Cesare on April 27, and the line-up for the 2013-2014 series will feature treats such The Nose, La Boheme, Prince Igor, and Falstaff.
The presentations of operas Live in HD have been by and large fantastic. Patrons have found much in which to delights. Those yet to have the experience are encouraged to see the Guilio Cesare especially because of the popularity of libretto