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 Donizetti's Maria de Rudenz

 

Wexford Festival Opera,  October 28 - November 6, 2016

Photographs by Clive Barda, courtesy of Wexford Festival Opera

This was a co-production with Minnesota Opera

Review by Charles Jernigan

 

Gothic Horror Opera Showout rarities

The Wexford Opera Festival (the 65th edition this year) is known for producing rare Donizetti works, and this year is a case in point.   Maria de Rudenz was based on A. Anicet Bourgeois and J. Mallian’s La nonne sanglante (The Bleeding Nun), itself one of many works that ultimately stem from Matthew Lewis's late 18th century Gothic novel, The Monk, (a description of this lineage can be found in "Children of the Monk""). The opera failed miserably at the premiere in spite of a very strong cast, because the story was considered too bloody and unlikely by half.  In spite of his misgivings about the story, Donizetti lavished one great melodic piece after another on his score, and the opera went on to considerable success in Italy and as far afield as Rio de Janeiro.  It did not make it to major non-Italian European capitals, however, nor to North America. 

Immediately after an opening offstage religious chorus (later borrowed for the opening of La ille du régiment), we get one of Donizetti's best baritone arias, Corrado's "Ah! non avea più lagrime" ("Ah, my eyes were drained of tears"). Rather like the villain di Luna in Verdi's Il trovatore (another convoluted libretto by Cammarano), this villain gets some of the most lush, beautiful music, which almost makes him sympathetic.  A vigorous duet for Enrico and Corrado follows ("Fratello!  Enrico!  abbracciami"), followed by Maria's lovely entrance aria "Si, del chiostro penitente." Probably the best music in the score is the great concertante finale which ends Part One, when Maria confronts her bigamist husband and takes back command of Rudenz castle.  The grand, slow ensemble ("Chiuse al dì per te le ciglia") erupts into one of best strettas that Donizetti ever wrote ("Il tuo core a me togliesti").  When it appeared that Maria de Rudenz had failed, the composer lifted this concertato and put it in his next opera, Poliuto; when that opera was not produced because of censorship, it became a part of the French remake of Poliuto, Les Martyrs.  In Part Two, there is a melting aria for Enrico (tenor) and a bouncy cabaletta, and there is a great and moving duet for Maria and Corrado, at the end of which Maria gets the stab wound which will prove fatal--but not until after one more act.  Part Three has the terrific duet between Corrado and Enrico which leads to their duel and Maria's aria-finale, "Mostro iniquo, tremar tu dovei."

Librettist Cammarano seems to have been attracted to this sort of obsessed character and conflicted psychology.  The villains have a good side , if we believe the music (Corrado still feels something for Maria and does not want to fight his brother), as in the case of the later di Luna.  Maria is obsessed by both love and hate for Corrado, just like Azucena in Trovatore.  "Non ha legge, né confine/Oltraggiato, immenso amor," she sings in her final aria: "An immense, outraged love/knows neither confines nor laws."

All of this is set by Donizetti to melodious and often vigorous music, equal to better known operas like Lucia.  Because of crucial (and unlikely) plot elements, many of which pass in barely a line of recitative, not to mention the gore and gothic silliness, the Wexford production used the English surtitles to tell the backstory and reinforce barely mentioned plot twists.  It is probably not possible to take the story seriously (at least the 1838 audience did not think so), so Director Fabio Ceresa gave it all a touch of campy irony by using large puppets or dolls dressed like the characters in the drama.  Sometimes the dolls were manipulated to tell confusing backstory or illustrate the characters' anger or love.  There were even "dolls" sewn onto the women's gowns.  Occasionally, characters manipulating the dolls to hit or kiss each other (and one is decapitated) brought laughter from the audience, serving as a distancing mechanism--we are not to take all of this too seriously--rather like the horror movie spoof, The Rocky Horror Picture Show.  The production uses some of the classic elements of horror such as creaking doors and flickering lights, not to mention the period horror costumes (by Giuseppe Palella), but it is all part of the fun.  Amazingly, Ceresa's production manages to tread the line between parody and serious melodrama quite well.  We can chuckle at one moment, but take Donizetti's serious music which underlines the tragedy at another. 

TThe doll/puppet theme was carried out in the stage set (by Gary McCann), a huge three-story doll's house/haunted house/castle with many rooms and nooks and crannies.  The set moved, too, and was constantly refigured in a sort of set-ballet in time to the music.  Lighting by Christopher Akerlind was appropriately atmospheric.  Gilda Fiume sang the obsessive, doll-besotted Maria with great panache.  She knows her Donizetti legato and can easily stretch to the fiery coloratura.  She is also an absolute mistress of lovely piano singing and fil di voce technique.  I thought she was exceptional.  Equally fine was baritone Joo Won Kang (singing a role which was premiered by great Donizetti baritone Giorgio Ronconi) as Corrado Waldorf.  His rich and powerful instrument had no problems with Donizetti's line; the baritone gets a lot of the best music here.  (Kang also performed at a stunning recital which ran the gamut from Beethoven to some beautiful songs from his native Korea; his is a name to watch for.). Jesus Garcia was a little less fine as Enrico, but he held his own.  The mezzo get short shrift in this opera, but Sophie Gordeladze was attractive and provided a great line riding the big ensemble at the end of Act One.  Michele Patti had the minor duties of Rambaldo.  One must also single out the very, very fine Chorus of the Wexford Opera under Errol Girdlestone.  The chorus has a lot of singing--three stand alone choruses along with support in the ensembles--and they were part of the action too, acting singly and as a whole, dressed in strange, but very effective gothic attire.  Andrew Greenwood led the Orchestra of the Wexford Festival Opera; everyone played well.  There is an especially lovely prelude to Part Two featuring the bass clarinet, played by Conor Sheil.

As far as I know, the Wexford production is the first staging in modern times since the early 1980's when there were several in Venice, Paris and Germany.  It is a rare chance to look anew at this rich Donizetti score, so replete with his archetypal melody--and an arcane story.  It stands up, and I hope that Minnesota Opera,  who co sponsored the production, will bring it to their boards soon.  I will go again!

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The Team 

Maria de Rudenz - Gilda Fiume

Matilde di Wolf - Sophie Gordeladze

Corrado Waldorf - Joo Wan Kang

Enrico - Jesus Garcia

Rambaldo - Michele Patti

 

Conductor - Andrew Greenwood

Director - Fabio Ceresa

Set Designer - Gary McCann

Costume Designer - Giuseppe Palella

Lighting Designer - Christopher Akerlind

 

 

 

© Clive Barda/Wexford Festival Opera

Maria and chorus

 

 

 

 

© Clive Barda/Wexford Festival Opera

Rambaldo, Corrado and Enrico

 

 

 

 

© Clive Barda/Wexford Festival Opera

Maria and Enrico

 

 

 

 

© Clive Barda/Wexford Festival Opera

Maria

 

 

 

 

© Clive Barda/Wexford Festival Opera

Matilde and Maria

 

 

 

 

© Clive Barda/Wexford Festival Opera

Matilde and Corrado

 

 

 

 

© Clive Barda/Wexford Festival Opera

Maria

 

 







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