Franco Alfano: Risurrezione (1904)

Opera in four acts. Running Time: 1 hour 51 minutes.

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Opera… meet Soap!

SETTING: Russian Empire, 1890s. Katusha is seduced, impregnated, and abandoned by Prince Dimitri, the nephew of her employer. She is eventually rendered unemployed, convicted of murder, and condemned to Siberia. The Prince eventually regrets his misdeeds and gains a release for her, but she decides that celibacy is the only penance they can make that will atone for what they have done.

LOOK OUT FOR:

ACTS 1&2:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g4CNmU5y604

ACT 1: The Nekludoff country estate, a Pascha night (Orthodox Easter) in the 1890s. (27 minutes)

2: After a very brief prelude (all of ten bars) which seems to have one good tune that never ultimately comes into its own (seems based on a melody from the prelude to Massenet’s Herodiade), we have Katusha’s song of anticipation for the arrival of Prince Dimitri * (are all Russian princes named Dimitri) is complimented by the housekeeper Pavlovna, followed by some holy Pascha choral singing.

8: A lovely quiet patch from the orchestra as Dimitri makes his entrance ** and embarks on a florid aria ** which turns into a duet with his aunt who is happy he has showed up for Pascha services before he has to go off to war, and he compares Katusha to the Madonna (making it a trio) before auntie has everyone sent off to bed.

13, 18, 20, 25: The seduction scene ** starts with Dimitri’s fantasizing about Katusha, she appears and they embark on a long duet with more than a few lovely passages **, especially when Dimitri gets her into bed to some shimmering strings **. The chorus is heard in the distance and she begs him to stop before he goes in for the kill prompting one last outburst of ardour from the two ***.

ACT 2: The train station of a small village in south-western Russia. (20 minutes)

0, 2, 8: A dark and deep prelude * leads to Katusha’s Vigil * as she awaits the arrival of Dimitri with her friend Anna. Katusha has fallen pregnant by Dimitri and anticipates telling him the news. The wait is broken up by the slightly obnoxious opera-laughter of a contralto prostitute and her bass client. Katusha worries that she has probably been abandoned, Anna puts the idea in her head, but she tries to remain positive ** and prays to the Almighty.

11, 14, 17: Dimitri arrives with his army buddies and picks up some lyrical prostitutes *. Katusha hides in the shadows with Anna and does not confront him and mourns her lost and forsaken love *. She tries to go after him after he re-boards the train with a prostitute finally but is stopped by the stationmaster, whom she rebukes. Eventually she collapses as the snow starts to fall to an orchestral postlude *.

ACTS 3&4:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s_NY7-lU7lw

ACT 3: A spacious room in a prison in St. Petersburg with two large windows. (37 minutes)

0, 4: One would never guess the prison setting as the musical tone of the act generally is so jovial **. The excepts include when Katusha comes on and relates how she has been condemned to Siberia **.

7, 11: Apart from a comment from the Guard * but there isn’t much else until Katusha emotes to a waltzing melody *.

13: The Roll Call * is followed by orchestral despair ** as they are taken out.

16, 21, 24: The Guard introduces Prince Nekludoff * to a dark and deeply solemn horn and bassoon theme. Katusha is brought in, but when Dimitri addresses her she thinks he is a stranger seeking sexual favours from a defenceless prisoner. He identifies himself to her but their duet doesn’t get very far until Katusha’s aria * and a response from Dimitri *. She becomes ornery as a result and he tries to stop her.

27: At last she breaks down and weeps after relating all that has happened to her as a result of his seduction **.

29, 35: At last we reach a climax as Katusha begs why she isn’t dead yet and Dimitri encourages her to cry in a rather beautiful aria *** before he is called out by the guard and leaves Katusha to come to her senses to a melodic burst from the orchestra *. The act fades out.

ACT 4: A prisoner commune in Siberia. (26 minutes)

0: Fine nature preluding from the oboe *, eventually a bass voice breaks the quiet (with choral backing).

4: Simonson (sort of a Russian Yogi figure, also a prisoner) comes on with Katusha who has become his pupil of sorts **. She no longer has anger towards anyone and has found solace in helping the other prisoners.

6, 11: The arrival of Dimitri prompts a happy tune *. He and Simonson have a confrontation over Katusha leading to some Puccini-esque Mickey-mousing * as the two men get on more friendly terms.

17, 22: The remaining 13 minutes of the opera consists of a final duet between Katusha and Dimitri, the main highlight occurring when Dimitri becomes determined to win her back ** prompting a glorious rejection from her and his response before his final attempt *** before they say their final good-bye and the chorus declares that Christ is Risen to a rehash of the prelude to act 1. This is classic Italian passion, of a sort.

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COMMENTS:

I’ve wanted to review this for a while. I’ve known about Tolstoi’s novel Resurrection, for about 15 years now and read part of it (I own a copy of it but I’ve never finished it). I’ve also seen the 1934 Goldwyn film adaptation with Fredric March and Anna Sten. The operatic adaptation has some similarities to Puccini’s Manon Lescaut. The plot consists of four episodes from Tolstoi’s novel with a lot of the story taking place between acts. It is never so isolating, however, as the Puccini opera. The cast does not disappear to the point that act four is just the lovers trekking it through a desert (of sand or snow). Unlike Manon, however, Risurrezione is a decidedly non-fatalist work: none of the characters die and although the lovers are not reunited romantically, they are reconciled. The score is fine, although it does have its periods of boredom which is worrisome due to the work’s brevity. Although Katusha is obviously the main character, it is Prince Dimitri who gets most of the better music (although the act three duet can feel painfully slow when listening to it at home and not witnessing the stage action). What is more, Alfano’s score is a strong contender for the last Italian opera written in the 19th century style. Something about it, however, keeps this from being an alpha (maybe the episodic plot, maybe the lulls in a score which by any standard totally lacks world-class, spell-binding, spine-tingling tunes.) Perhaps a combination of both?  B+

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