Notes and Editorial Reviews
R E V I E W S:
Manlio Benzi, cond; Danilo Formaggia (
); Serena Daolio (
); Italian Intl O; Bratislava CCh
DYNAMIC 573 (64:18
Text and Translation) Live: Martina Franca 8/07
Prince meets peasant.
Prince and peasant fall in love. Duty calls. Prince reluctantly returns to work. Seem familiar? It’s the basic bittersweet plot of
The Student Prince
(in which she’s a barmaid instead of a depressed, starving country girl). Although I believe that Sigmund Romberg may have handled the subject with more verve and variety, I can understand why someone would think Umberto Giordano’s
worth a revival and also why it failed in the first place. The 1907 audience was probably hoping for another
and was no doubt baffled by a one-act opera in three episodes that runs just over an hour, at least half of which is devoted to extended love duets between the principal soprano and tenor, and whose music is more notable for its delicacy than its drama. The parts and score of the opera were destroyed during World War II, but Giordano’s manuscript survived, and this enterprising group used the opera’s centennial as an excuse to reconstruct and perform what is an odd sample of gentle, tasteful
(if such a thing is not a contradiction in terms). Listening to the opera, which has no set-pieces, flow along, we know that, although inspiration may be fleeting and thin, we are in the hands of a professional who knows what he’s doing, which is the same reaction I have had with
Fedora, Madame Sans-Gêne
La cena della beffe
. I’ve never heard
, though I hope I will someday. And what of
? Why has it thrived while his more mature works have not? Because instead of objectively evaluating it, a large swath of the public has been
by it. When I hear it, I don’t find myself admiring the composer’s professionalism—I find myself enjoying the music. By the time 1907 came along,
at least as far as opera was concerned, was pretty much a spent force. It gave us Mascagni’s
(1896) and the early Puccini operas, but only Puccini, who was as much of an Italian Wagnerite as a verismist (have I coined a word?) at heart, was able to achieve continued success but, even in his case, until
La fanciulla del west
were rediscovered, many people considered
to be his last good opera.
Back in 1907, Fernando de Lucia and Gemma Bellincioni probably sang
with conviction and it survived (barely) into the 1930s, when the protagonists were played by Tito Schipa and Magda Olivero, singers who understood the style. To give them their due, Danilo Formaggia and Serena Daolio sing Giordano’s bittersweet (with the emphasis on “sweet”) duets with apparent fervor and he, at least, usually manages to make a good sound. She has her moments, too, but her voice gets edgy up on top, even after she warms up. The other roles, friends of Giorgio and his advisor, Drasco, are not important enough to worry about. I assume that this production is uncut (try to get a score or libretto for
—fortunately, the accompanying booklet has the latter, in Italian and English). The recording perspective is that of a very good seat in a small theater. I salute Dynamic for once again exploring “the dustbin of history.” We are unlikely to get another recording of this opera and the curious are advised to move fast before it’s gone.
FANFARE: James Miller
A creditable account of an interesting rarity attractively and idiomatically performed.
Giordano’s Marcella was premiered at the Teatro Lirico in Milan in 1907 with Gemma Bellincioni and Fernando De Lucia. The opera went on to have some success with Magda Olivero and Tito Schipa. Sadly, wartime bomb damage to the Sonzogno Publishing House meant that both full score and parts disappeared. For the 2007 Festival della Valle d’Itria Giordano’s manuscript score was re-copied so that centenary performances of Marcella could be given. It is these performances which form the basis for this disc.
The opera is relatively short, just three scenes lasting a total of 64 minutes. The plot, such as it is, owes something to La Traviata - though without the death - and something to La Rondine, with the addition of a rather strange streak of politics. Politics in various ways, in fact, threads its way through a number of Giordano’s operas such as Andrea Chenier and Fedora.
In Marcella, a pure but desperate girl, Marcella, is forced into prostitution by hunger. She is befriended by a young painter who is in reality the heir to the throne of a European country. The two fall in love. The prince is recalled to his duties by events in his home country and leaves her. There is nothing realistic about the plot, it is very contrived. It is only at the end of the second scene that Marcella realises that her lover Giorgio is in fact a prince; and we are asked to believe that the two of them have had a blissful country idyll lasting a few months.
Like La Rondine, the opera lacks the desperation of La Traviata and instead substitutes a mood of pleasant melancholy. Also, like La Rondine, Giordano opens the opera in a café, creating an attractive mélange of styles and some interesting orchestral effects. But once Giorgio and Marcella have met, then the opera becomes theirs. It is almost as if Giordano is seeing how much plot he can miss out without jeopardising the essentials of the core relationship.
Serena Daolio and Danilo Formaggia make an attractive couple and seem to respond well to the focus which Giordano places on them. It helps that Giordano manages to come up with some pretty good tunes. You don’t quite go away humming them, but he comes quite close. Daolia has a bright, spinto-ish voice which can sound a little over-bright. The recording sometimes catches her vibrato rather badly, but overall she has a good sense of line and allows the voice to blossom on Giordano’s grateful lines. You don’t ever believe that she is a put-upon house-maid - she sounds far too strong minded for that, but she gives a fine musical account of the role. As her lover Giorgio, Danilo Formaggia has the sort of slightly dry, grainy but attractive tenor voice which I now associate with Andrea Bocelli. Formaggia sings the role with enviable freedom and certainly relishes Giordano’s long-lined melodies.
The opera was recorded live and this seems to help, allowing both protagonists to involve us in what little drama there is. You might not believe the plot but at least you believe in Daolio and Formaggia as a romantic couple.
The supporting cast are all well cast, providing good support in the ensembles in the opening scene. Of them it is really only Pierluigi Dilengite’s Drasco who gets much of a look in with his dramatic opportunity in scene 2 when Drasco recalls Giorgio to his duty.
The ending is obviously meant to be romantic as the couple’s big tune is followed by a passage where Giorgio hurries away leaving Marcella in tears. The net result is that we are left feeling the opera doesn’t finish so much as evaporate.
Manlio Benzi and the Orchestra Internazionale d’Italia give a fine account. The booklet includes a useful, if flowery, article about the opera plus a complete libretto in Italian and English - always a help with this sort of rarity.
No-one is going to claim that Marcella is a forgotten masterpiece, or that this cast is superlative but they give a fine, creditable account of an interesting rarity. Anyone interested in what was happening in Italian opera besides Puccini can buy this knowing that they will gain an attractive and idiomatically performed account of the opera.
-- Robert Hugill, MusicWeb International
Works on This Recording
Marcella by Umberto Giordano
Danilo Formaggia (Tenor),
Serena Daolio (Soprano),
Pierluigi Dilengite (Voice),
Natalizia Carone (Voice),
Maria Rosa Rondinelli (Voice),
Giovanni Coletta (Tenor),
Marcello Rosiello (Voice),
Mara D'Antini (Voice),
Angelica Girardi (Voice)
Bratislava Chamber Chorus,
Italian International Orchestra
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