Thursday, September 15, 2005

Francesca da Rimini



Once you truly begin to love the opera, you want it like food, but unlike food, there can never be too much opera.

The women’s chorus in the opening of Riccardo Zandonai’s Francesca da Rimini , filmed in 1984, see the supposed bridegroom walking by and sing, “He is the fairest Knight in all the world.” And of course he is.

If I had done my sexiest opera singers twenty years ago, it might have had only one name: Placido Domingo. Was there ever a man more gorgeous than he? No man ever did more to make the plots of operas believable than Placido. When Minnie in The Girl of the Golden West sees him walk into her bar, she just naturally goes mad for him, and we completely believe it. And he sings. Placido sings wonderfully, to be sure, but it is almost superfluous.

The story derives from an anecdote in Dante. The Malatesta family has three sons: Gianciotto (Cornell Macneil), known as the lame, Malatestino (William Lewis), the blind, and Paolo (Placido Domingo), the beautiful. Francesca is chosen as a bride for Gianciotto, and her father knows she would never marry such an ugly, crippled man, so he arranges for her to marry him while Paolo stands in for him. Both of them think at the time of the marriage that they are marrying each other.

This film is a lot of fun. I never found my copy and bought a new one. When the battle comes, Francesca stays and pushes herself to the battlements to stand by Paolo whom she blames for the deception of her marriage. It is to be a trial by arrow. He kills the enemy leader and is saved. At the same time he falls madly in love with Francisca and is lost.

Smaragdi (Isola Jones) is an exotic black woman who appears beautifully posed around the set among Francesca’s women. Finally she sings, and out comes an amazing low voice.

What a perfect part for Renata Scotto! She is everything that Renata Tebaldi was not. This does not mean that she is everything that Tebaldi was, but Francesca is a soul in torment, and we need to see it. With Scotto we see everything. This may be the most real acting I have ever seen in an opera. Her voice still sounds good.

I wrote on my paper, “Holy shit!” This is not proper literary writing. Who can get that soulful look in his eyes half so well as Placido? This is very, very, ... very sexy. I wish I was there to shout with the audience. During the bows after act III Renata hugs Placido and looks up into his eyes with an expression that says, “yes.” It is a perfect moment.

This is not earth shaking music, but it is fun and expressive. I have to admit that I really love this. The production and performances are absolutely first rate.

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