Alfano’s Risurrezione in Florence

Alfano’s Risurrezione is certainly not a neglected masterpiece. The critic who described its music as “unalloyed sludge, turgid and torpid” may have exaggerated but the score is unmemorable and, worse, formulaic, employing in a predictable fashion the devices familiar from other verismo compositions. Nor does it come anywhere in doing justice to the Tolstoy novel on which it is based. The librettist Cesare Hanau must take primary responsibility for this. It over-sentimentalizes the Russian author’s philosophical quest to explore personal redemption through suffering and sacrifice. It should have been darker, less explicit, more complex. So, for example, the final love duet, perhaps inevitably according to verismo opera tradition, exults in an emotional lyricism but this runs counter to Tolstoy’s more subtle conclusion requiring the couple to edge their way to a realisation that an incomplete relationship is the only way to accomplish their own self-fulfilment.

Having said all that, I have to confess that the performance in Florence was, in many respects, highly successful.  The Maggio Musicale Fiorentino orchestra were in good form and their conductor Francesco Lanzillotta, while not ignoring the clichés, moved the music along with passion and commitment. Rosetta Cucchi’s production, first given at the 2017 Wexford Festival, did all that was possible to turn the piece into powerful drama and visually, with Tiziano Santi’s imaginative designs and Ginevra Lombardo’s evocative lighting, it was aesthetically pleasing. In particular, while the decors remained relatively simple, the differences between the aristocratic mansion, the suburban railway station, the St Petersburg women’s prison and the Siberian landscape were effectively characterised not only in a literal sense but also metaphorically as the setting reflected the two leading protagonists evolving within themselves.

Anne Sophie Duprels, as Katiusha, the erstwhile peasant girl, seduced and then discarded with the wretched consequences of prostitution, imprisonment and exile, was outstanding both vocally and dramatically.  Through physical gesture as well as demeanour and appearance, the transition from flighty innocence to coarse disintegration and eventual vulnerability was admirably conveyed; and it was enhanced by the richness of her soprano in the earlier lyrical passages waning to a harsher, caustic tone and then quieter pathos. Unfortunately, as her lover the Prince, Matthew Vickers was not in the same class. Though endowed with a stirring, golden tenor which emitted some glorious sounds, he was wooden on stage and failed to communicate an understanding of the character’s predicament. In the smaller roles there were noteworthy contributions from the baritone Leon Kim and the mezzo Romina Tomasoni.