Sunday, April 14, 2013


Radio New Zealand Concert network
Sunday 14th of April 2013 at 3.03 - 7.00 pm

ZANDONAI: Francesca da Rimini, an opera in four acts
In the 13th century a passionate woman of high rank is forced into a marriage she does not want, while the man she truly loves, her ugly husband's beautiful (bello) brother, pursues her despite the risk to both of them; a third brother, one-eyed, is suspicious and jealous of them; he informs the husband his brother, who lies in wait and puts his sword through them when he catches them in flagrante delicto; they now languish in Hell.
Francesca da Rimini......... Eva-Maria Westbroek
Paolo................................. Marcello Giordani
Giovanni........................... Mark Delavan
Malatestino....................... Robert Brubaker
Adonella........................... Renée Tatum
Altichiara.......................... Patricia Risley
Biancofiore....................... Caitlin Lynch
Garsenda.......................... Dísella Làrusdóttir
Ostasio.............................. Philip Horst
Samaritana........................ Dina Kuznetsova
Ser Toldo Berardengo...... Keith Jameson
Metropolitan Opera Chorus & Orch/Marco Armiliato

LIBRETTO (Italian)

Hullo, hullo, Francesca and Paolo il Bello, her fancy man (and what a pretty boy he is) are going to be caught in fragrant delight and flagrant delict, and put to the sword by her aggrieved and aggressive husband; they will surely sorely burn in Hell for this. Francesca is no daughter of Saint Francis (her contemporary). Dante was sympathetic towards her when he met her down there; but as the poet he is the one who put her there! Not many people know this: sexual sins are not the worst of the deadly sins; they are more peccadillos than peccata.

Riccardo Zandonai (1883-1984) is not a name that pops up very often, but It is one I know because I have this opera in a twelve-inch square box, and when I want to find it I go to the last of the score of shelves in the closet where all the vinyl discs sit waiting for my attention (and they still get plenty of outings to have a spin on the turntable and be tickled by a diamond back-scratcher, causing them to utter squeals of delight) and Francesca (1914) is at the end of the bottom shelf. But right next to her is Conchita (1911), another of Zandonai's ladies (this one is from Spain; she works in a cigar factory in Seville; sound familiar?); I acquired her at Slow Boat Records in Wellington. Actually, Zeller comes after Zandonai, and a song from his Birdhandler is sung by Erich Kunz on his Vienna recording.
   Other dead Z-composters: von Zemlinsky; Zingarelli (Montesuma. 1781, an opera commended by Haydn); and Hermann ZUMPE, conductor and composer, assisted Wagner with the first Ring (1873).

  Working back along the shelf, there is Wolf (songs sung by the black-headed blonde name Schwarzkopf); Vincent Youmans (No! No! Nanette) and Yannis Xennakis are in another collection, in the lounge-room; Wolf-Ferrari is in the opera on video collection, with Kurt Weill. Widor and his box of organ symphonies are in place. Weinberger has a slot for his Schwanda der Dudelsackpfeifer. Webern is missing, but Weber is there in full force; Walton is well represented with opera and oratorio; and then comes Wagner stretching over a couple of groaning shelves; a goodly lot of Vivaldi concertos and opera; Villa-Lobos is there, briefly; then Verdi fills out a considerable space, but so does Vaughan Williams, with his symphonies and operas.
   By the way, I re-arranged my compact disc collection today, on open access on a double-sided bookcase with eleven shelves ( = 22). I gave a few of them a hearing, to test the new amplifier: the VW Antarctic (Scott of the...) Symphony had the house trembling and threatening an avalanche when the pipe organ joined the orchestra. Britten's War Requiem had cannons roaring, too (I have five versions of it now that I recorded the Auckland concert).
   But I am in dire danger of digressing.
   I would like to say many things about Francesca da Rimini . For a start, they played Tchaikovsky's tone-poem on the radio tonight, from a concert which also included his violin concerto, played by Nicola Benedetti (it even came to our town and I went to it).  But do we know that his brother, Modest Tchaikovsky produced a libretto on the same subject, and Sergei Rachmaninov set it to his wonderful music. Unfortunately the Bolshoi recording has never come my way. The action (passionate love, vile jealousy,  and violent murder) is framed by the original setting, in Dante's Divine Comedy: Dante and the poet Vergil descend into the underworld (Inferno), and they meet Francesca and her lover Paolo, il Bello (the handsome one; against her will she married his ugly brother); Dante is deeply moved by her story.
   Dante's great poem is something I have studied in the original Italian (having devoured it twice in my lifetime). If you want to share my journey with Dante to Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise, it is recorded here:
You will find it under "The Divine Comedy", in four parts, and because I wrote it you can be sure it is good, or good fun, or weird, or wicked, emphasizing the seven deadly sins.

   The recording I own (1973) has Placido Domingo with Raina Kabaivanska, conducted by Eve Queler (a New York concert); he also appears with Renata Scotto at the NY Metropera under James Levine (1984).  My wife Helen gave it to me as a birthday present some years ago.
   You will find mention of the other unfortunate lovers who found themselves dragged into operas: Tristan and Iseult, Lancelot and Guinevere. It was while they were reading about this Arthurian pair that Paolo and Francesca had their first kiss and subsequent long afternoon of bliss; their story (Lance and Gwin) is also told in Donizetti's Elixir of love opera.

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