Zandonai: Francesca da Rimini
Based on a play by Gabriele d'Annunzio, Riccardo Zandonai’s opera Francesca da Rimini is undoubtedly the composer’s most famous work. First performed on February 19, 1914, this example of Italian verismo has been a popular choice for Italian spinto sopranos ever since its first performance. I’ve long been an admirer of this work and readily admit that I find the score one of the most beautiful in Italian Opera.
There is a heady Wagnerian influence in it’s through-composition and lush orchestration which I find impossible to resist. Combine this with some intensely erotic love music, one of the best operatic battle scenes ever written and a highly original final scene and one is left wondering why the work is not as popular in the rest of the world as it is in Italy, never really making it into the mainstream repertoire.
It is still performed sporadically and there are a number of recordings in the catalogue that definitely do the work some justice. Probably the most renowned recent production would have to be the Metropolitan Opera’s which first appeared in 1983 with Renata Scotto and Placido Domingo as the doomed lovers. This sumptuous indulgence was captured on film and is still available. It’s being revived this year and due to be broadcast during the Met’s Live in HD season.
Of the recordings I own I do not really have a particular favourite but the strongest contender would have to be the Olivero/Del Monaco highlights recorded in the late 60’s. In terrific sound with both soloists in brilliant form, I often wish Decca had of recorded the score in its entirety. There are however a couple of broadcasts in existence to hear these two in a complete performance. The other recordings also put forward a strong case for Zandonai’s striking score.
With the emergence of a couple of new productions, one pre-Raphaelite inspired recently performed in Paris, and another outdoor production filmed with husband and wife team Daniella Dessi and Fabio Armiliato as Dante's lovers, it looks like Francesca da Rimini could finally be finding the popularity it deserves.
Here is a short clip of part of the love duet of Act 3, when the lovers read the story of Guinevere. It's vintage RAI with Marcella Probbe and Giuseppe Campora from 1960.