NEW YORK Mark Delavan knocked over a table and swung his ax. Francesca da Rimini is not subtle.
Riccardo Zandonais most well-known composition returned to the Metropolitan Opera on March 4 after a 27-year absence, a schmaltzy verismo melodrama with charged music and enough family turmoil to fill several soap opera seasons.
The revival showcased Eva-Maria Westbroeks dramatic soprano and fine acting as Francesca unsuccessfully tries to navigate a love quadrangle, an entertaining performance of a genre that was fading even at the time Zandonai was creating the work.
Lacking a musically memorable aria or ensemble, Francesca has not been part of the core repertory. Still, Zandonais score, with a libretto by music publisher Tito Ricordi, makes for an enjoyable evening.
Based on a play by Gabriele dAnnunzio that was inspired by Dantes Inferno and set in 14th-century Ravenna and Rimini, Francesca premiered in 1914. (Why didnt the Met wait another year and bring it back for the 100th anniversary?) Its first U.S. performance was at the Met in 1916, but after 1918 it disappeared until Piero Faggionis larger-than-life staging in 1984 that starred Renata Scotto, Placido Domingo and Cornell MacNeil under James Levines frenetic baton. Two years later, the Met brought it back with the blustery tenor Ermanno Mauro, and then Francesca vanished again until now.
Francesca, part of a wealthy Polentani family, falls in love with the dashing Paolo of the wealthy Malatesta family even before they speak to each other but for political reasons she is forced to marry his deformed, cruel brother Giovanni, who is known as Gionciotto and walks with a limp. Paolo longs for Francesca even after the wedding. Francesca is then pursued by their younger brother, Malatestino, who lost an eye during a battle between the Guelphs and Ghibellines. Spurned by Francesca, Malatestino tells Giovanni of Paolos love for his wife, and Giovanni kills both Francesca and Paolo.
Westbroek, who made her Met debut as Sieglinde in Wagners Die Walkuere two years ago, showed Francescas vulnerability in the softer, lyrical moments, yet her voice had enough heft to accurately cut through the swelling orchestration.
Marcello Giordani struggled at the start as Paolo, sounding strained and constricted when the second act began. But when he climbed the tower of Ezio Frigerios huge set which looks more Industrial Revolution than early Renaissance Giordanis tenor gained luster. While his voices color faded in the softer passages, it was a far better performance than his Aeneas in Berliozs Les Troyens in December, when he withdrew in the middle of the run and retired the role from his repertory.
Delavans booming baritone was imposing in the somewhat cartoonish role of Gionciotto. Robert Brubaker had a bright tenor as Malatestino, and Ginger Costa-Jackson displayed a sweet voice and demeanor as Francescas slave Smaragdi.
Marco Armiliato didnt whip the orchestra into a frenzy, but still led a driven performance that brought to life a score that at times harkens to Puccini. David Kneuss directed, adhering pretty much to the original staging. The production, from the Mets hyper-realistic era, includes a fire-spewing ram. The three intermissions remain, but curtain calls in front of the traditional gold drape were reduced from five to two.
Saturdays matinee that will be televised to theaters around the world and broadcast on radio.