If Opera 2023 – Giordano’s Fedora

Fedora – Opera in three Acts to a libretto by Arturo Colautti after the eponymous by Victorien Sardou [sung in Italian with English surtitles]

Fedora Romazov – Sky Ingram
Loris Ipanov – Charne Rochford
Olga Sukarev – Lorena Paz Nieto
De Siriex – Alexey Gusev
Désiré – Andrés Presno
Dimitri – Rebecca Afonwy-Jones
Gretch – Aidan Smith
Lorek – Emyr Wyn Jones
Cirillo / Boroff – Dan D’Souza
Sergio / Rouvel – Dominick Felix
Nicola – Henry Grant Kerswell
Peasant Boy – Oliver Jenkins
Boleslao Lazinski – Mark Austin
Vladimir Andrejevich – Luke Howe

The Bristol Ensemble
Oliver Gooch

John Wilkie – Director
Alisa Kalyanova – Designer
Luca Panetta – Lighting

Reviewed by: Curtis Rogers

Reviewed: 26 August, 2023
Venue: Belcombe Court, Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire, UK

Verismo (realism or true) opera is often derided for its sensationalism that is not, in fact, very true to real life. However, the high society assassination in Tsarist Russia that is the starting point for Giordano’s Fedora (1898) – first suspected to be for political motives, but turns out to be the result of a duel of honour – might present an all too startling parallel with If Opera’s presentation of the work now, as it happens, by chance, to come immediately after the death of Yevgeny Prigozhin in circumstances which even the Presidents of the USA and Ukraine think were hardly accidental. 

Such events in the world at large today make the scenario of this opera, based on a play by Victorien Sardou (also the author of the drama upon which Tosca was based) look positively urbane and civilised in John Wilkie’s elegant production, set around the time of composition. A series of arches, generally veiled, compounds the sense of mystery in the narrative which, initially, unfolds as a whodunnit, as various silhouettes showing the moment of Count Vladimir’s murder and a few other confrontations counterpoint the principal action. But especially dramatically effective is the moment when, during an interlude, a pensive Fedora slips through an arch and confronts Vladimir again herself, seeming to suggest that it was she who was responsible for the crime, not Loris (whom she takes up as a lover, not entirely with cynical calculation) as in the original scenario, who commits the deed after discovering that Vladimir had arranged an assignation with his wife Wanda. Heady, lurid purple lighting sets the mood too, which is cleared to a bright white to match Fedora and Loris’ dress in Act Three after the interval, as they make an apparently new start together in Switzerland, before Fedora is finally undone by her ruses and she takes the poison she has to hand. 

Sky Ingram makes a bold impression in the title role, yielding nothing to any of the character’s doubt or despair, but keeping her firmly in the dramatic centre ground and remaining in control of her plans as she seeks to corner Loris. Charne Rochford delivers an equally impressive, passionate account of Loris tinged with a veneer of melancholy and thoughtfulness, compared with which Alexey Gusev’s diplomat, De Siriex is purposeful and assured, but expressing humanity and warmth too. Lorena Paz Nieto brings more capricious charisma as Olga, Fedora’s cousin, who takes a notably lighter-hearted approach to affairs of the heart. Mark Austin performs in the silent role of her lover that we do see, Lazinski, playing with discreet elegance the piano solo (he is referred to as the ‘heir to Chopin’) at the Paris salon which forms the tense backdrop for Fedora and Loris’s first significant tête-à-tête in the opera. A committed cast of smaller characters offer lively support. Particularly haunting are the snatches of folksong provided by Oliver Jenkins as the Peasant Boy, accompanied by accordion, creating a charged background for the opera’s final Act in Switzerland.

Despite reduced numbers in order to fit in the performance space, the Bristol Ensemble responds with urgency to the score, and Oliver Gooch doesn’t allow the tension to sag; for example, as Fedora makes her vow to avenge Vladimir, the hymn-like homophonic chords don’t become introverted, but retain an almost brash, threatening potency. As the volume and pace ease in the several atmospheric sections when the lower strings come to the fore, their playing is no less compelling as they sustain an outwardly dramatic line rather than becoming claustrophobic as though playing intimate chamber music. 

Although Puccini came to define best of all the style of verismo (most of whose operatic masterpieces came after Fedora in any case) this performance shows that, even if Giordano’s work is no masterpiece, it is precisely crafted to move in line with the dramatic impulses of the text. The one famous aria (‘Amor ti vieta‘ for Loris, popularised by Caruso who created the role) comes and goes quickly and, at less than two hours in length, the work certainly cannot be said to outstay its welcome. Any shortcomings are well filled out with this unfussy but gripping production.

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