The MET Opera House/ Wednesday January 4th, 2023.
Welcome back friends, and Happy New Year!
Welcome back, this week, to the fabulous world of opera, and to a musically gorgeous, late 19th century (1898) “verismo” / “every day”, arresting, compelling, turbulent, poignant, political, fast paced, excessive, melodramatic, and yet, at times, fun, joyful, and spirited opera, which is being performed at the MET Opera again, after an absence of 25 years.
Welcome to “Fedora”, written by incredibly talented Italian composer (famed for his “Andrea Chénier” opera written 2 years earlier), Umberto Giordano (1867-1948), also a young member of the “Giovane Scuola”/ the “Young school” (which included Mascagni, Leoncavallo, and Puccini).
An opera, “Fedora”, based on a terrific 1882 drama by French playwright extraordinaire Victorien Sardou (1831-1908), a prolific artist (who also wrote 5 years later (1887) “La Tosca”, which Puccini adapted as an opera), and who wrote “Fedora” as well (as for “La Tosca”), for the most famous French actress of the time, the iconic Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923) who wore a felt hat on stage, that soon became known as a “Fedora”.
An opera “Fedora”, whose illustrious librettist Antonio Colautti (1851-1914), an Italian journalist and political writer from Croatia, (and who also wrote the libretto for the very entertaining “Adriana Lecouvreur” opera by Cilea (1866-1950), keeps the action fast paced (a little too much in the first act, as we discover the characters in my opinion), and interestingly also, sets the action against Russian political nihilism of the late 19th century, while still maintaining an intimate story.
So welcome again, to a particularly “over the top”, passionate, action packed, and brief 3 acts love story filled with betrayals and deaths, revolutionaries, and moments of levity, set in 3 different “European” locations: in imperial St Petersburg, in high society Paris, and in the idyllic Swiss Alps.
How about that?
An opera, “Fedora”, set to extraordinarily melodious music throughout the work, including “verismo” ambient and local sounds, evoking all locations (including in Act 1 in a beautifully decorated St Petersburg palace, sleigh bells and Byzantine music).
In Act 2, in Paris, musically, Giordano evokes the French capital with a “Chopinesque like” piano performance within the opera.
And finally, in Act 3, in the Swiss Alps, Giordano includes to his score other “verismo” elements, in particular, a beautiful melody, sung by Swiss herdsmen or played on the alpenhorn to call cattle, as well as an eerie and nostalgic, Savoy song of departed love, sang by a young boy.
So what is the plot about?
The convoluted plot is about, passionate, betrayed love, Russian nihilism, and a fun and light hearted party, among mostly Russian aristocrats, which ultimately, will lead to multiple deaths and the suicide of the heroine, Fedora.
Specifically, in a nutshell, in Act 1, a widowed and wealthy Russian princess, Fedora (Ramazoff), is about to marry the following day in St Petersburg, the son of the Chief of Police, Count Vladimiro (Andrejevich Jariskin). We then learn quickly of Count Vladimiro’s murder right then and there, the night preceding their upcoming wedding, and Fedora swears to avenge his murder.
Let’s admire a short excerpt, of Yoncheva singing of her resolution to avenge Count Vladimiro’s murder:
We are told as well pretty soon, that the culprit is Loris Ipanoff, a neighbor of Count Vladimiro’s, suspected of murdering Count Vladimiro for obscure political reasons, as Loris seemingly, has ties to the Russian nihilist movement.
In Act 2, Fedora is found at her Parisian mansion, where she is holding a “soirée” in a huge ballroom, including friends and family (in particular, Countess Olga (Sukarev), Fedora’s cousin (and comic relief character of the opera), entertaining, giddy, dizzy, flighty, and delightful, accompanied by her “flavor of the moment” love interest, or “protégé”, the charming and talented pianist Boleslao (Lazinski), who will eventually play a “Chopinesque” piece during the evening (while Fedora is having a serious conversation with Loris), after a fun exchange between Olga and another guest (Giovanni de Siriex, a French diplomat) about the nature of Russian women (complex), and French (Parisian) men (giving one a headache eventually, as when you drink too much champagne).
Let’s listen now, to a short excerpt of Feola, as Countess Olga, explaining the nature of French (Parisian) men:
So fun and silly.
We realize also that Fedora, apparently has been “hanging out” in Paris for several months with Loris (who has progressively fallen in love with Fedora), to get to know him, and devise a plan to avenge Count Vladimiro’s murder.
Let’s now listen to a short excerpt by Beczala, the most famous aria of the opera, where Loris tells Fedora he loves her:
Just beautiful, and perhaps slightly too much?
And we get to realize that Fedora has set a trap for Loris that evening, by trying to get Loris to confess to Count Vladimiro’s murder, during the “Chopinesque” piano concert performed, far from their conversation, which he eventually does (confess), without explaining why, leaving Fedora, flabbergasted.
News of an attempt on the life of the tsar, then arrives, which immediately ends the party.
Fedora then, writes a letter to Vladimiro’s father, the Chief of Police, accusing Loris of murder.
Eventually, Fedora also learns that Loris’ brother Valeriano, is also suspected of nihilistic political activity.
And when Fedora confronts again Loris, about the reason for Count Vladimiro’s murder, Loris, reveals that he had found out that day (the day before Count Vladimiro and Fedora’s wedding), that Count Vladimiro’s was actually his own wife’s lover (who then, ran away, and eventually died), and had written proof of their “affair”; and when Loris confronted Count Vladimiro about it, Count Vladimiro had shot him first, and Loris only fired back in self-defense, which eventually killed Count Vladimiro.
Oh boy. Oh boy.
Fedora realizing then and there, that Loris murdered Count Vladimiro only in self defense, and for understandable personal (and not political) reasons, Fedora then simultaneously, realizes also instantly, that she loves Loris, and that yet, by sending an earlier letter to Vladimiro’s father, the Chief of police, she has set a trap for Loris.
Oh boy. Oh boy.
Fedora then begs him to stay the night with her, to avoid Loris from getting caught by the police.
In Act 3, several weeks later, we discover that Fedora and Loris live together happily in the Swiss Alps. Fedora’s cousin Olga, has joined them, as she has left her lover, the pianist Boleslao Lazinski, and is bored and grumpy. Loris leaves to see if there is any mail for him at the post office. French diplomat Giovanni de Siriex then arrives, and after a fun scene with Olga about an upcoming bicycle ride together in the mountains (bicycles were becoming increasingly popular at the time), Giovanni tells Fedora, more seriously, as Olga departs, that Loris’ brother Valerian, has not only been imprisoned, on charges of sedition, but has also died, as a a flood from the river Neva has drowned Valerian; and Valerian and Loris’ mother, upon hearing the news, has also died (of a stroke).
Oh boy. Oh boy.
Loris then, comes back from the post office, finds a telegram, containing news of his pardon from the tsar. Additionally, Loris also receives a letter explaining the deaths of his family members, who died because of traitor, a woman, whose identity, will be revealed to him soon.
Loris is devastated and can’t wait to punish the traitor. Fedora then, begs him to have mercy on the guilty woman, and Loris understands at last, that Fedora is asking forgiveness, for herself. In despair, Fedora drinks poison from a cross she carries around her neck, asks for forgiveness, and dies.
So sad, and a tad convoluted, but this is opera. Of course.
What to say about the production itself?
That David McVicar’s production, with incredible sets (love the floors) by Charles Edwards, was simply stunning, incredibly elegant, and sophisticated, and flowed seamlessly from one location to another: whether the gorgeous St Petersburg palace, filled with solemn paintings, including Russian icons, and snow covered costumes (including a gorgeous tiara for the princess Fedora), the super chic Parisian ballroom, filled with glamorous costumes, jewelry, feathers and gloves (all by Brigitte Reiffenstuel), allowing for crowds, intimacy and even a piano concerto, or the beauty and charm of a Swiss mountainy landscape and balcony allowing to overhear easily gorgeous Alpine songs.
I also loved the dreamy “ghostlike” presence of Count Vladimiro in Act 2 and 3, which allows the audience to understand what complex feelings Fedora holds, and the importance of the past to explain the present, including her need for avenging her Count Vladimiro, despite progressively falling in love with Loris.
What to say of the conductor and performers?
That all of them, including the chorus, were, as was the orchestra, beautifully conducted, with great energy and authority, under Marco Armiliato’s masterful baton, and what great and nuanced local melodies and sound effects as well, for each location, in particular, the “chopinesque” piano performance in Paris, and the gorgeous Swiss alpine songs.
And three singers, particularly stood out for me:
First, in the title role, Bulgarian soprano, Sonya Yoncheva was wonderful, both, as a contained and solemn princess, and as a passionate, betraying, and also feisty “fiancée” and lover. And I especially liked her in Act 2 and 3, as the plot thickens and gets darker.
Italian, juvenile looking, and highly expressive soprano, Rosa Feola, was truly exceptional, as well, as the Countess Olga (Fedora’s cousin), such a warm and bright sound, what beautiful color and technique, and what a great actress as well: extremely convincing in her lighthearted and humorous portrayal of a young, restless, giddy, dizzy, a tad silly young woman.
And handsome, charming, and quietly seductive, Polish tenor, Piotr Beczala, was a terrific Loris, what a warm and clear voice, and what a great depiction of a smitten, passionate, and dashing man.
So, to sum up my feelings, about Giordano’s intense and a tad “over the top” “Fedora”, admired last Wednesday, at the MET Opera, in great company: what a passionate, excessive, dark, political, intimate, and yet at times, lighthearted tale, set to awesomely beautiful music, and what intricate arias and duets. What a great nuanced “Fedora” Yoncheva proves to be, how entertaining is Feola as “Olga”, what a great seductive “Loris” Beczala embodies as well, and what an elegant McVicar production, enhancing beautifully, the various European locations, which see so much love, passion, and tragedy, flourish.
And not to be missed!
Until next time friends!
Eternal butterflies 😊