Francesca might be a stage failure but meeting her on disc is a success
Blame has always been laid at the door of Modest Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov’s librettist, for the failure of Francesca da Rimini to hold the stage. But the demands would have taxed a much larger talent than his. The story of Paolo and Francesca occupies only a dozen lines in Dante, and that they are very famous ones does not help; Modest was also required to frame the whole scene and to invent a disproportionately big part for the spurned husband Lanceotto to please Chaliapin (who never in the end sang it). It is hard to see the piece working on the stage.
On records, matters are different. The long soliloquy for Lanceotto providesRead more Rachmaninov with the opportunity for a fine portrait of sorrowing jealousy, and Sergey Murzaev sings this with an eloquence, even an ironic warmth, that make it very moving. Svetla Vassileva’s Francesca is demure before his protests, and sings her vain plea for Paolo to wait for their union in heaven with a serenity that is the more effective for its restraint. Misha Didyk’s Paolo is more urgent, and his words are not always very clearly heard through the orchestra, which makes the most of the long kiss (some 50 bars) under Noseda as well as of the scene-setting in hell that owes much to Modest’s brother Pyotr. Gennady Bezzubenkov provides a sturdy Virgil to guide Evgeny Akimov’s Dante through the unhappy scene.
This is an excellent way of coming to know a flawed but interesting piece of Rachmaninov, and it is much helped by excellent presentation from Chandos.