DVD Review:  Francesca da Rimini
Date:  5/29/99

FRANCESCA DA RIMINI is one one of a slowly growing list of operas available on DVD.  The cast is as follows:

Francesca:Renata Scotto
Paolo Malatesta:Placido Domingo
Gianciotto:Cornell MacNeil
Malatestino:William Lewis
Conducted by James Levine for the Metropolitan Opera, 1984

Being an opera neophyte, I'm not really qualified to judge this as an opera, but instead I am reviewing this as a stage performance.

In 1914 a silent film version of this opera starring Geraldine Ferrar was produced by Famous Players-Laski, which went on to become Paramount Studios.  I have not been able to find this film anywhere.  If anyone reading this knows how to obtain a copy, please let me know.

This DVD shows what a great talent Renata Scotto was in her prime.  She is in excellent voice and exhibits rivetiing acting skills.  Her high notes are crystal clear and achieved without any seeming effort.  She portrays Francesca's insecurity & fragility with great skill.  Her obsession with Paolo is not only convincing, but generates quite a lot of sexual heat.  Her farewell scene with her sister is so beautifully sung and acted that it gave me a lump in my throat.

In this performance, Placido Domingo is the epitome of the romantic lover/hero.  The scenes between him & Miss Scotto are so convincing that I began to wonder if he & Renata might have been romantically involved off stage.

Cornell MacNeil as her husband, Giancotto, proves himself a still effective singer even though his performance is a trifle overacted.

William Lewis as her brother-in-law, Malatestino, is appropriately heroic, malevolent and vulgar.

While there may not be any musical highs ("hummable tunes"), there are also no musical lows.  There is no waiting for the next great aria, as the music is generally even throughout the entire opera.

It is sumptuously staged by Piero Faggioni, with sets by Ezio Frigerio and costumes by Franca Squarciapino, all in a Botticellian mood.  Levine's conducting is quite effective, illuminating every mood and supporting his cast in all their emotional stages.  I would definitely like to see a live performance of this opera, providing that the Francesca is also an actress (Elizabeth Futral perhaps?).  Without a great singing actress in the title role, Francesca da Rimini, like Lucia di Lammermoor, falls apart.

One final note.  The finale actually made me cry.

-- Dennis Merchand
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