Fedora in Frankfurt

Umberto Giordano will for ever be associated with the popular opera Andrea Chenier but in recent years Fedora has been performed in some of the leading houses, if primarily because the title role offers histrionic opportunities for famous sopranos. Based on a play by Victorien Sardou which had been enriched by the presence of Sarah Bernhardt, the piece is dramatically lively, with skulduggery, espionage and murders as the eponymous heroine is torn between misplaced loyalty to a fiancé who deceived her and love for his killer. Musically, however, it is far from distinguished. It boasts two or three good tunes which tend to be repeated as leitmotif devices and some heavy-handed climactic passages, but otherwise is devoid of inspiration and rather banal.

For the production, shared with the Royal Opera Stockholm, the Frankfurt Opera called on Christof Loy, known for his perceptive intelligence and challenging stage interpretations. And he certainly attempted to give depth to the piece by focussing on the character of Fedora as, driven this way and that by conflicting emotions, treachery and quickly changing circumstances, she strives to assert her will and her convictions of what is right and honourable. To aid this perspective, he made use of videoed close-ups of the heroine and, on occasions, of a divided stage, contrasting the public antics of her social milieu in the rear with the traumas of her private emotional encounters at the front.

If, at the last resort, Loy’s fascinating endeavours failed to win me over, this was because it was insufficiently underpinned by the too often formulaic and uninspiring characteristics of the score. Perhaps Lorenzo Passerini in the pit could have done more to bring out such nuances as it contains, but I doubt it. In the title role, Nadja Stefanoff certainly did her best with a richly colourful performance which fully reflected the complexities of her dramatic predicament, without resorting to cliché.  The same cannot, sadly, be said of  Jonathan Tetelman as her lover who, possessing a truly marvellous tenor voice, could not resist using it to play to the gallery (and was appropriately rewarded by their enthusiastic plaudits). Typical of the Frankfurt Opera was the quality in the performance of the subordinate roles and the ability to overcome some absences among their number caused by illness.

An evening which demonstrates that an interesting production and strong vocal performances cannot always compensate for a composition which is musically vapid.