Small picture of Donizetti

 

 

 

Foroni's Cristina di Svezia

 Wexford Opera Festival, Ireland, October 25 - November 3, 2013.

Photographs by Clive Barda, courtesy of the Wexford Festival

 

This was the second modern day revival of this opera that had its first modern revival at the 2007 Vadstena Festival in Sweden and has been the subject of two past Newsletter articles: Philip Gossett in Newsletter 109 and Geerd Heinsen in Newsletter 102, part of which by can be found here.  A broadcast of the opera from Wexford can be heard here.

George Hall in The Guardian (October 28, 2013) wrote that "This year's major discovery, however, turns out to be Christina, Queen of Sweden by the forgotten Italian Jacopo Foroni, who died of cholera in Stockholm in 1858 aged just 34. … the large-scale score rises to ambitious heights under Andrew Greenwood's baton, and with soprano Helena Dix offering unstinting commitment in the title role".   Thomas Molke (Online Musik Magazin, October 25 performance) noted that "Faszinierend ist, welche musikalische Vielfalt in diesem Werk steckt, das zum einen stark an den frühen Verdi erinnert, allerdings auch Melodienbögen erklingen lässt, die von Verdi erst in den 50er Jahren, also nach Cristina, komponiert wurden". He singled out Igor Golovatenko and Helena Dix while not forgetting chorus or orchestra in what he judged a great evening of opera,  "Der von Errol Girdlestone großartig einstudierte Chor, der hier mit gewaltigen Ensemble-Szenen auftrumpfen kann, und das unter der Leitung von Andrew Greenwood fantastisch aufspielende Orchester runden den großartigen Abend zu einem regelrechten Gesamtkunstwerk ab".

Below is a report from Charles Jernigan on the October 25 première.

Jacopo Foroni's Cristina, Regina di Svezia was a huge success at its opening at the Wexford Festival Opera on 25 October, 2013.  Superbly acted, well sung and directed the opera, virtually unknown to the Wexford public, made a major impression.

The Director, Stephen Medcalf, updated the work from the seventeenth century to a 1930's milieu by suggesting comparisons between Cristina's abdication of the Swedish throne in 1654 and Edward VIII's abdication of the English throne in 1936 "for the woman I love."  Indeed, the love interest in the opera, Maria Eurfrosina (Lucia Cirillo) was made up to look like Wallis Simpson.  The backstory in the opera is the Thirty Years' War waged between the Lutherans and the Catholics, a war in which the real Cristina's father Gustavus Adolphus (the Great) was killed, making her Queen at the age of six.  In Medcalf's production, the backstory is Neville Chamberlin waving the paper with the Munich Agreement and proclaiming "peace for our time," seen in old newsreel clips.  The comparisons between 1600's and the 1930's were never forced or literal (we are in Sweden with Swedish flags), and generally work.  When Carlo Gustavo (a superb Igor Golovatenko), who saves Cristina from a conspiracy and who will succeed her as king, arrives on stage in Act II, it is via parachute, and when Cristina (Helena Dix) muses about abdication in a lengthy recitative at the beginning of Act III, it is presented as a radio address to the nation, like Colin Firth as George VI in The King's Speech. One might have preferred to see such an unknown opera set as Foroni and his librettist, Giovanni Carlo Casanova, intended, but Medcalf's updating did no harm and even helped to universalize Cristina's situation.

I have loved the music of this opera since the recording became available a few years ago (from a Swedish performance, the only one in modern times to my knowledge), but I was skeptical about its dramatic viability. The Wexford production proves that I need not have feared. Cristina, Regina di Svezia works very well on stage. True, there are a couple of serious flaws in the libretto--the virtual disappearance of Maria Euphrosina after her central importance in Act I and some weakness in the final act when Cristina decides to abdicate (a crucial moment after all) in recitative and not in an aria.  But these flaws are not sufficient to derail the dramatic veracity or stage-worthiness of the work.  After all, it is really Foroni's music, memorable, complex and utterly competent in both the big ensembles and the arias and duets which drives the drama.  As the singers took their well deserved bows at the opera's end, I was only sorry that Jacopo Foroni could not be there to finally see his work vindicated and so vividly brought to life after such a long sleep.  Swedish musicologist Anders Wiklund deserves our great thanks for bringing this neglected Queen back to life, and of course the Wexford folks deserve our gratitude for reviving her so beautifully.

 

The Team

 

Cristina,  Regina di Svezia  - Helena Dix

Maria Euphrosina, Gabriele's love - Lucia Cirillo

Axel Oxenstjerna, Chancellor - David Stout

Erik, his son - Patrick Hyland

Gabriele - John Bellemer

Carl Gustav, successor to the throne - Igor Golovatenko

Johan, his son - Daniel Szeili

Arnold Messenius - Thomas Faulkner

 

Conductor - Andrew Greenwood

Director - Stephen Medcalf

Designer  - Jamie Vartan

Lighting Designer  - Paul Keogan

Costume Supervisor - Jeni Roddy

 

 

© Clive Barda

Cast of Cristina

 

 

 

© Clive Barda

 Cristina and her chancellor

 

 

 

© Clive Barda

 Cristina

 

 

© Clive Barda

Cristina and her successor, Carl Gustav

 

 

© Clive Barda

Maria and Gabriele

 

 

 

© Clive Barda

Maria

 

 

© Clive Barda

Taking a bow

 

 

 

Page initially published in  2013