*Fedora,* Jan 7, 2023
Stephanie, Lenny, Richard, and I saw *Fedora* at the Met on Jan 7, 2023. It's a new production of an 1898 opera by Umberto Giordiano. It has a lot in common with Puccini's *Tosca,* written two years later. Both are based on plays by the French playwright Victorien Sardou, both of those plays written for Sarah Bernhardt. Giordano and Puccini both came from the same "school" of young Italian composers upending expectations in Italian opera, writing in a more direct and overtly emotional style. This style became known as "verismo" or "realism."
Everything in a verismo opera is larger than life, and that's especially true in this opera: the love, the vendetta, the repose, the tiara. This sort of heightened reality bordering on camp is perfect for the opera form.
Another interesting overlap for *Fedora* and *Tosca* is that both have had recent new productions at the Met directed by David McVicar and starring Sonya Yoncheva. McVicar has done 14 new productions at the Met since 2009. This is his second new production just this season, they opened the season with his production of *Medea.* That and Handel's *Giulio Cesare* are the only Met shows he's directed that I haven't seen so I feel I can speak to his strengths: he does largely traditional productions, opulent and beautiful to look at, intelligently staged, illuminating the opera, often with inventive touches but never with goofy moments of directorial whimsy. The Met wants to order new productions that will last a long time and be easy to stage with new casts with little rehearsal and I think they've done very well giving so much work to McVicar. That said (an expession I abhor), maybe they should let someone else do a show more often. *Fedora* is tailor-made for him but though I didn't see *Medea,* I could see that show doing very well with a more avant garde director.
There's no point in doing *Fedora* without two strong singers in the leads and the Met certainly had that with Yoncheva and tenor Piotr Beczała. Yoncheva has just the right mix of sincerity and grandeur plus a wonderful feeling for the sometimes creamy sometimes forthright style of the music. She's a very important singer at the Met and I will see her in nearly every show she does. Here she is doing a reverent moment in the first act:
Beczała is another important singer and I'm greatly looking forward to his *Lohengrin* in a couple months. I'm a little concerned about a leatherly quality that comes into his middle voice now and then but his high voice is tops and he really knows how to lay on the gravy in a climax. Here he is doing just that, in the show-stopping aria "Amor ti vieta." The role was originally sung by a young tenor named Enrico Caruso and his recording of this aria was one of the things that put him on the map.
The opera itself was pretty exceptional. I had seen the Met's previous production on TV in the 90s and thought it was cute and a great opportunity to put two aging Met stars (Mirella Freni and Placido Domingo) on the stage in a vehicle that didn't require too much of them. I was skeptical about the Met doing a new production of this - - it seemed to me like a minor work and not really worthy of a new production, when there are so many other shows they've either never done (at the top of my list are *The Ballad of Baby Doe* and *Four Saints in Three Acts*, and it's amazing to me they've never done Bellini's *I Capuleti ed i Montecchi*) or need a fresh production (*Tannhäuser* is overdue). But *Fedora* totally delivered! The work itself was surprisingly strong, complex, and rewarding. Conductor Marco Armiliato and the Met Orcehstra deserve a lot of the credit, they played the score like it was a great work. It has to border on schlockiness - - it needs indulgence but still elegance (it was my seatmade Lenny who supplied that word "elegance"). There are a couple of orchestral interludes that were highlights in the show, both because the orchestra played them so beautifully and because McVicar staged them so intelligently.
The highlight of the score is a scene in the second act - - it's set in Paris at a high society party that Princess Fedora is throwing. Her gal pal has brought her new boyfriend, a pianist who's allegedly the nephew of Chopin. He performs for the guests and Giordano wrote a splashy piano solo for him. Giordano wrote the scene so the pianist plays at the back of the stage and the two leads have their scene at the front of the stage. The genius of this scene is the orchestra was absent. It conveyed an intimacy and "overheard" quality that was thrilling. I don't know of another moment in any other opera that achieves this effect and that scene alone made the opera worth seeing (and staging).