Tuesday August 20th, 7:30 p.m.
An opera in three acts
by Umberto Giordano (1867-1948)
Libretto by Arturo Colautti
after the play Fédora by Victorien Sardou
Premièred at Teatro Lirico Internazionale in Milan on 17 November 1898
A 2015 production from The Teatro Carlo Felice, Genoa
Direction by Rosetta Cucchi
Set Design by Tiziano Santi
Costume Design by Claudia Pernigotti
Lighting Design by Luciano Novelli
Chorus and Orchestra of The Teatro Carlo Felice
Conducted by Valerio Galli
The director, Rosetta Cucchi, frames this production as Loris’ flashbacks. Before the music starts, an aged version of Loris walks to a chair downstage right, where he remains throughout the opera, looking at photo albums.
See the sidebar('Survivor guilt') for a discussion of this staging.
Act 1 The house of Count Vladimir Andreyevich, St Petersburg, in winter 1881
While Count Vladimir is out, his servants gossip about the advantages of their impecunious master’s approaching wedding to the wealthy widow Princess Fedora Romazov. The princess herself arrives unexpectedly. While waiting for the count, she admires the house and a portrait of her husband-to-be.
A police officer, Gretch, appears with the diplomat De Siriex, followed by agents carrying Vladimir, who has been shot and wounded.
Under questioning, the coachman Cirillo relates how he drove Vladimir to a shooting club, but while waiting outside heard two shots and saw a man rush out.
Vladimir was found in an isolated pavilion, lying in a pool of blood. It emerges that, as the son of the chief of police, he has been receiving threats, and suspicion falls on Nihilists. Various clues link the pavilion to a letter, now missing, received earlier in the day by Vladimir. His recollection of a man coming to visit but running off inexplicably now leads Fedora to conclude that this must be the perpetrator, and she swears to avenge her fiancé.
The porter names the suspect as Loris Ipanov, and Grech goes off to find him. Fedora is called by the doctor attending Vladimir. As she enters his room, word comes that Ipanov has escaped, but oblivious to all else she approaches the dead count’s bedside and collapses in grief.
Act 2 A reception at the Paris home of Fedora Romazov
Fedora has tracked down her enemy in Paris, and while her cousin Countess Olga Sukarev parades her latest protégé, an exiled Polish pianist named Lazinski, she introduces Loris to De Siriex and confides that he has fallen in love with her.
In the course of conversation Fedora refers enigmatically to a cure for all ills kept in the cross she wears. De Siriex flirtatiously sings to Olga in praise of Russian women. She replies with a sour commentary on French men. Loris openly declares his love to Fedora.
While Lazinski plays for the guests, Fedora draws the information from Loris that he has fled Russia because he was accused of a crime. Although he eventually admits to killing Vladimir, Loris insists that he has proof that will exonerate him. Fedora tells him to return with the proof, but when he leaves she exults at having achieved her goal. Word arrives that an attempt has been made on the tsar’s life, and the party is abandoned.
After some hesitation, Fedora begins to write a letter. Gretch slips into the room to tell her that Loris has received a message from his brother. Fedora adds the brother’s name to the letter that she hands to Gretch, who understands that it is for the chief of police. Fedora arranges to deliver Loris to Gretch’s men as they wait outside. Loris returns, and tells Fedora the full story of how he had rushed into marriage, only to discover his wife was having an affair with Vladimir.
The letters that Loris shows Fedora confirm the count’s deceit, and he explains that when he surprised the guilty couple in the pavilion, Vladimir shot first. Loris fired back, fatally wounding his adversary.
Fedora’s sympathies are now with Loris, and knowing that she has laid a trap for him, she begs him to stay with her. They express their love for each other.
Act 3 Fedora’s villa in the Bernese Oberland in Switzerland
Loris and Fedora are living blissfully in Switzerland, with Olga their house guest, when De Siriex comes to visit. He first breaks the news that Lazinski was a spy, but suggests a bicycle ride to cheer up the dismayed Olga. Left alone with Fedora, De Siriex explains that on receiving her letter, the chief of police had Loris’s brother imprisoned as an accomplice; when the nearby River Neva flooded, he drowned in his cell, and the shock of this tragedy caused Loris’s mother to die of grief.
De Siriex and Olga set off on their bicycles, leaving the guilt-ridden Fedora praying to God to save Loris but not herself. Returning from the post office, Loris opens a telegram from his friend Borov, and learns that he has been pardoned by the tsar and is free to go back to Russia. A second message from Borov, however, brings the news of the deaths of his brother and mother, and the information that a Russian woman living in Paris had made the denunciation.
Devastated, Loris determines to expose and punish her, and when Borov himself is heard arriving, Fedora seeing no way out, pours the poison from her cross into a cup of tea. Her repeated attempts to intercede on the anonymous woman’s behalf finally reveal to Loris that she herself is responsible.
Fedora begs vainly for his forgiveness. When he curses her and is even prepared to kill her, she takes the poison and dies in his arms.
Daniela Dessì as Fedora
and Fabio Armiliato as Loris
Click here for a video preview of this production
Ingrid Bergman once said that happiness depends on good health and a bad memory. According to her adage, Loris Ipanov is a terribly unhappy man.
Based on Rosetta Cucchi’s new staging of Umberto Giordano's Fedora at Teatro Carlo Felice, Ipanov bears witness to incessant survivor guilt, unable to escape restless remembrances of his ill-fated family and strongest regrets – betrayal, disgrace, loss and abandonment.
Fast-forwarded 30 years to World War One from the libretto's 1881 provenance, Cucchi’s vision was anchored by actor Luca Alberti as a grey-haired, senior citizen Ipanov, seated on the proscenium in flannel work clothes or a moldy military uniform where he dozed, shuddered and sobbed to ceaseless memories of lost landscapes, absent families and historical trauma.
Covered in illusion, Ipanov Snr’s recollections were bent surreal by Tiziano Santi's scenery, which divided the stage into three horizontal striations of floor-to-ceiling, paneled glass walls. Each partition housed a temporal field: Ipanov senior’s remembrances tethered backstage while the couple's unfolding St Petersburg love story and Paris/Oberland chalet fallout parlayed the middle and front levels.
It also punctuated the libretto's tempestuous melodrama: in Act II, when Ipanov divulged to Fedora that he’d found Vladimir and his wife in flagrante delicto and fired his gun in self-defense, Ipanov Snr smashed his glass to the floor at the admittance of the mortal wound.
In Act I, as Ipanov Snr flipped through a photo album, monochromatically-lit townspeople pressed forward into the glass, urging him to bear witness (by Luciano Novelli’s ghostly lighting). Later, when bloodied, limp Vladimir was carried into his St Petersburg mansion salon by Gretch and De Siriex, a re-enactment of his mortal shooting unfolded over falling snow.
In the hands of less agile directors, the idea could have strayed into gimmick – distracting, unwieldy and sentimentally manipulative. But prudent Cucchi knew when to let the drama speak for itself and banish backstage allusion – like when Ipanov learned that his mother had died of heartbreak and his unlucky brother had drowned in prison.
To float emotional tensions above its decorous libretto, the lead roles command artistically-mature singers (like the benchmark 1993 La Scala performance with Mirella Freni and Plácido Domingo). To wit, Genovese opera singers Daniela Dessì and Fabio Armiliato stepped into role premières as the star-crossed duo, ushering in Carlo Felice's first Fedora in 15 years.
- Courtney Smith on Bachtrack, 24 April 2015
NEXT MEETING: Tuesday September 10
LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR (Donizetti)
Covent Garden 2013
The events of Walter Scott's famous story are outlined in a spectacular split-screen set designed with devastating precision by Vicki Mortimer working with director Katie Mitchell.
Daniel Oren conducts a thrilling cast with Diana Damrau, Charles Castronovo and Ludovic Tézier in the main roles.
Damrau portrays a strong and independent woman who fiercely fights against her brother's machinations. Have a box of tissues with you!