Umberto Giordano’s minor league opera Fedora was brought back to the Met after an absence of 25 years. The main reason for its reappearance, as far as I could, tell was to add novelty without the aural pain that the Met’s commitment to new operas has recently inflicted on its audience and box office. If you are going to resurrect as slight a work as Giordano’s potboiler you’d better take it seriously and give it as strong a production as possible. With one minor exception the Met treated the opera as if it were a masterpiece.
David McVicar’s new production played it straight. The sets and costumes (by Charles Edwards and Brigitte Reiffenstuel, respectively) were time and place appropriate. It likely took all of McVicar’s directorial fortitude to avoid placing the action in a 21st century Calcutta barrio. Act 1 was in St Petersburg, Act 2 in Paris, and the last act in the Swiss alps – all where they were supposed to be. The costumes and decor were splendid; they looked like they belonged in an opera. The only misstep was to have Fedora’s dead fiance hang around for the opera after his demise in Act 1. The ghost served no purpose beyond distraction.
Giordano’s score has one really good tune – ‘Amor di vieta’ and it only lasts a minute. When things bog down the composer brings back the tune as he seems unable to conjure another one of equal merit. Thus, much of the important action is delivered with recitatives instead of impassioned melodic utterance. The listener is left thinking that the composer had said all he could in his previous opera, Andrea Chenier, written two years earlier. Nevertheless, the singers got everything that was in the piece and then some. All delivered their notes with full voice. This was con belto, not bel canto.
The Bulgarian soprano Sonya Yoncheva sounded like she was ready for Aida. This carpet bombing approach to singing, she was forte or more for most of the show, was fine for Fedora. Fedora hates the tenor, then loves him, and then kills herself. The transitions were handled by the soprano better than by the composer.
Loris Ipanov, has got to be the unluckiest tenor in all opera. First he discovers that his wife, a servant girl he married on impulse, is cheating on him with Fedora’s fiance who only wants her (Fedora’s) money. After falling in love with Fedora she denounces Loris to the Russian Imperial police. She then realizes that Loris acted in self defense and runs away to Switzerland with him, now in love with the man she used to hate and regardless of the accusatory letter she sent. The letter results in the death of Loris’s brother and mother. When he accuses her of treachery she takes poison and dies. The poor guy is left with nothing but his high notes. His post operatic future is as bleak as that of Don Alvaro at the conclusion of La Forza del Destino. Piotr Beczała as the simultaneously loved and unloved Loris was outstanding. His voice has matured into a rich spinto. Though 56 years old, he looks and sounds like a man 15 years younger. His sound was rich and full throughout its range. The big Verdi tenor roles are his if he wants them.
The Countess Olga and her friend Giovanni De Seriex are a reduced version of Musetta and Marcello in La Bohème. Played by soprano Rosa Feola and baritone Lucas Mechem, they were vocally as fine as their slender material would allow. I’d like to hear them in bigger roles.
The entire cast were all at or above the level asked of them. This production requires a lot of resources. The outlay is even more noteworthy as the opera is unlikely to be done again at the Met for at least another generation. I don’t wish to seem too critical, the performance was excellent and the opera is pleasant. Maestro Armiliato appears to think highly of the opera. He conducted, without a score as is his want, to great effect and got the expected high level of performance now routine from the Met’s great orchestra.
A special note. Pianist Bryan Waghorn dressed in a long blond wig and wearing culottes made his onstage debut in this production as the pianist Boleslao Lazinski. Lazinski is said to be the nephew of Chopin. He plays while Fedora and Loris banter during the first part of Act 2. He appeared to be having a very good time and played his salon music with elan.
Gary Halvorson’s video direction was once again marred by ultra closeups. When not using a dissecting scope his cameras were well placed.
An unrelated note – the Met’s database seems to have stopped growing. Whether from neglect or inadvertence is unknown to me. The last entry was December 4, 2022. The Met’s ongoing chronicle of its performances is a very useful list. I hope the company gets back to it.