Umberto Giordano’s opera Fedora is probably unfamiliar to most of us. Even the Metropolitan Opera had side-stepped it for 25 years as had most opera companies. But it has gained some life in the last couple of decades and the Met has made up for its disregard by producing and transmitting a lavish and star-studded production to some 70 countries around the world.
Lack of enthusiasm in producing the opera is not exactly unjustified. Fedora was performed a mere 35 times before this production. It is a potboiler, as they say, that merits the monikers: melodrama, detective fiction, incredulous and even less less flattering descriptions. It is saved by some beautiful music and opportunities for singers that make it worth seeing.
A few words about the plot. The Russian Princess Fedora, rich and beautiful (sung by the beautiful Sonya Yoncheva), is about to marry Count Vladimir who unfortunately is killed before he can make his entrance. (Director David McVicar does manage to show us the bloodied Vladimir in the throes of death, as an extra for us). His death is tragic and Fedora swears (“Gloria dell amia vita”) on the holy cross from her mother to avenge him and pledges her youth to eternal chastity, her heart to eternal mourning and asks the Virgin Mary and all the saints for assistance. You get the idea.
That scene is in St. Peterburg around 1880. Next scene: a posh salon in Paris. Detective Fedora is looking for evidence that aristocrat Loris Ipanoff did the dastardly deed. We cannot believe that to be true because he is handsome and in the hands of the superb tenor Piotr Beczala is not that type. We find relief when Fedora, all oaths to the contrary, by the end of the second act falls in love with Loris (who has cleared his name) and Yoncheva and Beczala hit some fabulous arching phrases that they hold up to heaven as they declare their love. Protestations by Fedora to the contrary go to, well, wherever such pledges and oaths go when discarded.
The third act takes place in Fedora’s villa in Switzerland where we are treated to a gorgeous vista of the Alps from a balcony. The villa is magnificent and Loris and Fedora are happy, the servants are happy and we are happy for them all. But it will not last because someone denounced Loris as the murderer and that causes his exile, the death of his brother and the death of his mother. I cannot disclose who the woman who did that was, but a vial of poison in the cross that her mother gave her becomes handy.
Even a great opera director like David McVicar cannot save us from the melodrama and detective fiction of the story which at times make the opera look like a caricature of the genre. Soprano Rosa Feola as Olga and baritone Lucas Meacham as the diplomat De Siriex add a lighter touch and even a bit of humour to the opera. Kudos to both for their singing and providing a few much-needed laughs.
Charles Edwards’ magnificent sets are a great diversion and a joy to watch with Brigitte Reiffenstuel’s costumes being a bonus.
Marco Armiliato conducted the Met Opera Orchestra and, I must confess, in the end I enjoyed the production for the right reasons and set aside the other reflections. See the reprise and make up your own mind about which is what.
Fedora by Umberto Giordano was shown Live in HD at select Cineplex theatres across Canada on January 14, 2023 and can be seen again on February 4, 2023. For more information go to: www.cineplex.com/events