Francesca da Rimini at the Metropolitan Opera House, March 4, 2013
The New York Times, March 7, 2013
I don't often get much direct response to my Times reviews in the form of email; usually that's reserved for social-media channels and the occasional comment here on the blog. In this case, though, two notes I received after this review came out – one on my home address and one via the Times – left me disappointed that I'd failed to clearly convey the real motivation behind the question with which I closed the review: "Still – why?"
So, to be perfectly clear, I wasn't actually questioning why the Met would devote its considerable resources to an also-ran of the operatic repertoire. Fact is, I think the Met could stand to explore such byways more frequently. A diet of nothing but consensus masterpieces, however well done, could grow deadly dull in time, and the Met does tend to trot out its greatest hits and recent reimaginings rather frequently.
The music in Zandonai's Francesca da Rimini is inventive and ravishing, no two ways about it, and I also meant what I wrote about the clever economy of its dramatic pacing. The production is an old-school eye-popper of the sort we see infrequently now, apart from Zeffirelli revivals, and the directing is basically agreeable, though I absolutely agree with John Yohallem's observation regarding one particular scene, well-stated in his astute review on Parterre Box:
David Kneuss, who restaged the production, has the Malatesta army in Act II stand at attention staring up at Francesca and Paolo as they confess their immoral love to each other, which can’t be the ideal way to keep it secret from Gianciotto. At least turn the soldiers around, hey?
The question at the end had everything to do with the two principal performers, both of them honorable artists. Eva-Maria Westbroek's sound could be impressive, but lacked a certain floating quality that her character warranted; more importantly, her enunciation lacked clarity and incisiveness entirely.
As for Marcello Giordani – who, as I've revealed before, was my ur-tenor ages ago at Houston Grand Opera, where he made an indelible impression as my first-ever Duke of Mantua in a Rigoletto that literally changed my life – I wonder if it was his recent troubles in Les Troyens that made him seem so cautious and troubled here? I have immense respect for Giordani, but this was not a comfortable evening for him.
So, to complete the thought I tried to telegraph in that final, lingering question, why did the Met devote such evident resources to this revival without the proper principal artists to bring out what's best about the opera itself?