Opera in three acts. Running Time: 1 hour 30 minutes.
PLOT: St. Petersburg, Paris, Lucerne, 1881-1882. Soprano Princess Fedora’s fiance Count Vladimir is killed by suspected nihilist Count Loris (tenor) and she swears to avenge his death. She meets Loris at a party in Paris and they fall in love only for her to kill herself when she causes the deaths of his entire family.
LOOK OUT FOR:
ACT 1: A room in the palace of Count Vladimir. (22 minutes)
6: The opening scene up until the arrival of the dying count consists of mood music which hardly foreshadows the tragedy to come (it is all just domestic goings on) but as Fedora starts to fantasize about her love for the Count there is a nice melody that will return **. The Count is brought in and Fedora freaks out, Count Loris is the probable perp and there is little that can be done to save the Count, it is all just a matter of time.
11: De Siriex, a baritone diplomat, decides to investigate. The servant Cirillio goes on for a while about something or another to a nice melody * and then there is a brief string intermezzo.
17: Fedora vows revenge for Vladimir on a Byzantine cross she wears around her neck (incidentally it contains a vial of poison inside it) **. The rest is just low temperature angst punctuated with jolts of fear until Fedora realizes her fiance is definitely dead and the act ends to some Russian Orthodox sounding music in the strings.
ACT 2: A grand room in Fedora’s Parisian townhouse. (36 minutes)
2: Party music floats around for some minutes of “how dos” and Fedora’s friend Olga explodes with delight * over the fact that all of this is part of a reception for a Polish pianist. Fedora knows that Loris will be there and plans on killing him.
5: De Siriex’s Russian party piece *.
7: Loris’ love song is the only truly great piece in the opera ***.
10: This is followed by shushing from the audience as the pianist is about to do his thing and then Loris and Fedora discuss current (and not so current) events as the pianist plays rather sweetly. This is followed also immediately by some rather Verdian orchestration and then more piano work (this time faster and not as charming but it does provide the opera with a moment of realism for four minutes *). Fedora tells the amorous Loris to come back later than evening for a rendezvous because she is leaving for Russia the following morning and Loris is exiled for life from Russia.
17: The guests leave in seventy seconds flat and then we are off into a five minute long orchestral interlude which at first just consists of lower strings floating about and there is no attempt at trying to be melody for about three minutes until suddenly we get a nice reinforcement of Loris’ love song **.
22, 27: Fedora sends a nasty but important letter to the Russian police force via her servant Grech that is very anti-Loris before he arrives and the rest of the act (after she explodes with a cappella vengeance) consists of a big duet ** the first melodies coming from Loris. It starts to scatter about for a bit. He explains * eventually that her fiancé Vladimir was two-timing both of them by sleeping with Loris’ wife. Loris discovered them that night and when Vladimir attacked him with a knife he mortally wounded him. Fedora has regrets, Loris didn’t kill Vladimir out of political motivations but to defend himself and his honour; her dead fiancé is the unworthy man. He tries to leave but she eventually persuades him to spend the night with her. Rapturous explosions round out the act.
ACT 3: Loris’ home in the Alps. (33 minutes)
0: After the explosive nature of the previous number the quietly slow sound of off-stage hunting horns * comes as a relief. This is followed by a female chorus.
3: Loris expresses his joy over having found Fedora **, she reciprocates.
11: Olga and De Siriex arrive and the three of them flirt about for four minutes until Olga leaves. The latter explains eventually that the letter Fedora sent led to the arrest of Loris’ brother who then died when the prison he was sent to flooded. Loris’ mother then died from the news *. He tells her this to a theme that will return later when Loris discovers the truth and which sounds not far from Ulrica’s music in Verdi’s Ballo. De Siriex goes after Olga prompts him and Fedora is confronted with what she has done to a man she now loves, who is also essentially innocent or at least in the right and she now has innocent victims on her hands as well.
15: She ponders this as an odd song can be heard across the mountains in the distance **.
17: Loris reads a letter which tells him everything Fedora has found out from De Siriex * and he pathetically collapses.
22: Fedora confesses that she was the one who got them into this situation and he is furious *. She begs for mercy, there is none.
29: In the last four minutes Fedora poisons herself with the poison in her cross and the strange alpine song returns. Loris has his regrets and pardons the dying woman as the song continues and then crash, over and out. An effective ending **.
This is probably the textbook case of an average opera. It is neither bad nor truly memorable. There is nothing wrong with this opera, other than maybe how the first act is too short to be anything other than a prologue. Yet there is also nothing that really stands out other except maybe Loris’ declaration of love to Fedora in act 2. The story is fine, based on a play written for Sarah Bernhardt, so you know that dramatically the tale can do no wrong. Musically it is good, it just isn’t great. The first two acts have two great melodies (Fedora’s vengeance and Lori’s love). The third act exists in its own sound world. Definitely a B.