Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, December 2, 2010


FRANCESCA DA RIMINI. Opera by Riccardo Zandonai. The Metropolitan Opera 1985. Presented on Live from the Met. Stage Director: Piero Faggioni. TV director: Brian Large. Conducted by James Levine.

Francesca's (Renata Scotto) brother knows that she'll never marry Giancetto Malatesta (Cornell MacNeil) if she sees what he looks like, so he arranges a cruel trick. He has Giancetto's handsomer and younger brother Paolo (Placido Domingo) show up on the da Rimini estate, where it becomes love at first sight for the two [in a very passionate moment in which the two principals never sing, only the chorus in the background, and Francesca presents Paolo with a rose). Unfortunately, the scene in which Francesca discovers the truth is not depicted in this version of Gabrielle D'annunzio's play, but there's plenty of fireworks to come in spite of it. Try as they might, Francesca and Paolo can't quell their rising passion for one another, leading to sex and disaster, and a deeply moving, beautifully staged finale. With superior production design by Ezio Frigerio and beautiful costumes by Franca Squarciapino, this presentation by the famed Metropolitan opera is first-class virtually all the way through. Scott is perhaps not in the best voice, although no fault can be found with her acting. Domingo sings the pants off his third-act aria in which he explains how tormented he is by his separation from Francesca, and the two singers vividly display the proper amount of sexual and romantic excitation. Despite a tendency toward shrillness at times, Domingo is excellent, as is Cornell MacNeil as his frightening brother and William Lewis as the nasty Malatestina, a third brother who loses an eye in combat. Among the supporting cast, pretty Isola Jones makes a strong vocal impression as Francesca's devoted servant, Smaragdi.
Zandonai's music is attractive and powerful, intense with passion throughout, and full of forecasting of the terrible events that will transpire. A masterpiece.

Verdict: Perhaps the only time you'll see a severed head batted around the stage of the Met. ****.

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