Pioneer Entertainment presents
Francesca da Rimini (1984)
"One day, for pastime, we read to Lancelot, of how love mastered him....Several times, that reading urged our eyes to meet, and changed the color of our faces; but one moment alone it was that overcame us. When we read how her fond smile was kissed by such a lover, he who shall never be divided from me kissed my mouth all trembling. The book, and he who wrote it was a Galeotto; that day we read no further."- Francesca da Rimini, in Inferno by Dante Alighieri, canto v
Stars: Renata Scotto, Placido Domingo, James Levine conductor
Other Stars: Cornell McNeil
Director: Brian Large
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence)
Run Time: 02h:35m:46s
Release Date: 1999-04-27
DVD ReviewThe story of Paolo and Francesca was first immortalized in Dante's Inferno, where Francesca was doomed to spend eternity in the second circle of hell. Francesca herself tells Dante the story of how she was married by proxy to the hunchbacked Gianciotto Malatesta, but fell in love with the proxy, his younger brother Paolo. This tale of illicit love that will not be denied is the subject of a great many works of literature and art, most notably a symphonic poem by Tchaikovsky.
In 1912, a young composer by the name of Riccardo Zandonai, as student of Mascagni, came across Gabriele D'Annunzio's play of the centuries-old tale, and thought it would make a good setting for an opera. The result of his labors is the present production, staged with bravura by the Metropolitan Opera.
The time is 1254 in Ravenna. The first act seems almost like a Shakespeare comedy, with the beautiful Francesca (Renata Scotto) mistaking the identity of the proxy, Paolo (Placido Domingo) for Gianciotto, her intended husband (Cornell MacNeil). The act concludes with a modal madrigal which helps act as a transition to the brutal second act. Some time later, the Guelphs (the faction supporting the pope), led by Gianciotto is in mortal combat with the Ghibellines, who support the Holy Roman Emperor in the conflict. Francesca eventually forgives Paolo, after haranguing him from the battlements. We are introduced to the youngest of the three brothers, Maletestino (William Lewis), when he loses his eye, a particularly convincing and appalling bit of stage makeup. In the third act, the love triangle becomes a completely unstable quadrilateral, when it is learned that Maletestino also is in love with Francesca. As expected in opera, tragedy ensues.
Zandonai's score is solidly in Late Romantic style, with significant attributes of Wagnerian opera adopted to his own ends. There are leitmotifs, but they are used far more subtly than Wagner himself employed them. While there are moments that look forward to the atonal composers, this is in toto a thoroughly traditional opera which will not be out of place in the collection of any opera lover. Although I had never heard of Zandonai's version before, it is a capable work.
Domingo and Scotto both turn in superb performances. The supporting cast is in general adequate or better. Isola Jones, as Smaragdi, Francesca's slave has a wonderful contralto which serves as an excellent counterpoint to Scotto in the duet Smaragdi, non torna?. Nicole Lorange, as Samaritana, Francesca's sister, seems a little overmatched by the material and delivers her performance quite weakly. She is really the one flaw in an otherwise noteworthy production.
As usual for the Metropolitan Opera, costumes and staging are first class. There's almost always something interesting to look at. And for a change, the beautiful operatic heroine is actually played by a rather attractive woman!
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A
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Image Transfer Review: In general, the image is excellent. The opera is presented on an RSDL disc with the layer change apparently between acts and completely unnoticeable. This permits maximum bit rate, and Pioneer takes full advantage of the circumstance; the bit rate is consistently at a phenomenal 8 Mbps or better throughout.
Colors are clear and vibrant, and the picture is sharp and clear throughout, with minimal edge enhancement and no visible chroma noise. Blacks tend to be dark greys rather than real blacks, due to diffused lighting, but this is the only drawback to the picture. Considering this opera was shot live, with stage lighting, the image is better than acceptable and about as good as one could hope for.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: The DD 2.0 audio track has excellent range, with no audible distortion. There is significant bass throughout. Stereo separation is good, although not hugely directional. The instruments of the orchestra come through clearly, and the vocals are clean. The sound levels seem to be turned up between acts 1 and 2, which makes for deafening applause, but this is a minor concern. As is typical in a live production, there are also a few offstage noises and audience coughs, but that's the cost of filming live at the Met.
Audio Transfer Grade: A
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 35 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Layers Switch: Unknown
Extras Review: The only real extra is an informative single-sheet four-page booklet, which describes the history of the opera, gives a synopsis and a full cast listing, as well as the chapters. Unfortunately no information was given about the historical background related to the Guelphs and Ghibellines, who are no longer exactly household words, which may send readers scurrying for their encyclopedias. Otherwise, the booklet is adequate for its purposes.
Occasionally, a line or two which is sung doesn't appear in the subtitles, which is somewhat irritating. Chaptering is generally satisfactory, although the Finale runs over ten minutes in length and really should have been broken up into smaller chapters. No other extras are provided.
Extras Grade: D-
Final CommentsDon't let the fact that this is an opera outside the standard repertoire hold you back; opera lovers will want to own, or at least rent, this one for its excellent lead performances if nothing else. The audio and video are both high quality, although the extras on the disc are slim pickings indeed.
Mark Zimmer 2000-07-22