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‘Francesca da Rimini’ ready for its Met close-up


Francesca da Rimini

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When: 11 a.m. Saturday

Where: More than two dozen area cinemas

Tickets: $20-$25


Updated: April 16, 2013 3:11PM

Zandonai’s “Francesca da Rimini” comes along once in a generation, if that. Written in 1914, at the tail of opera’s verismo movement, it made its Metropolitan Opera de­­but in 1916 and then disappeared from the company’s repertoire until 1984. Receiving a lavish production by Piero Faggioni, and starring icons Renata Scotto and Placido Domingo, “Francesca” was hailed as a forgotten masterpiece. Then, save for a few performances in 1986, it disappeared again.

Ahead of the work’s centennial, the Met is reviving its ’84 Faggioni production, which will be simulcast to cinemas worldwide Saturday as part of its “Live in HD” series. The Faggioni design evokes the kind of spectacle that would fit right in on Middle-earth. Based on Dante’s “Divine Comedy” and Gabriele d’Annunzio’s play, “Francesca” is full of evocative names and outsized action. It concerns a love quadrangle in 13th century Italy consisting of Francesca and three feuding sons of the Malatesta clan: Giovanni lo Sciancato (“The Lame”), Malatestino dall’Occhio (“The One-Eyed”) and the hero Paulo il Bello (“The Handsome”).

The fair Francesca is sung by Dutch soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek, who insists she “can’t get enough” of this opera (which she first tackled in a new production at the Opéra de Monte-Carlo in 2012).

Q. You’re a big champion of “Francesca da Rimini.” Why?

A. I absolutely adore this opera. I developed a passion for this repertoire when reading the book “The Last Prima Donnas” by Lanfranco Rasponi. It has a whole section on verismo creators and performers, and they really spoke to me. I discovered that one was still alive and teaching, Iris Adami Corradetti [1903-1998]. We talked and she always said how much she loved “Francesca.” This is how a fire started inside me to sing this music.


How were you cast? Did you lobby for the opera?

A. It was a complete coincidence. The Met asked me if I would be interested, and of course I jumped for joy. The more you get into it, you realize what a treasure it is.

Q. Why has the opera been slow to find an audience?

A. I can’t really explain that. But I think if people would take the chance to know it a little more, it would grow in popularity. I have seen this at the Met. The second night of the run, it was much more relaxed, and people really got into it.

The verismo scores are full of emotion, so they’re sometimes branded as perhaps too sentimental. For some reason, people don’t like sentimentality these days. It’s odd because our lives are full of emotions.

Q. What’s your favorite scene in the opera?

A. The moment leading up to the kiss [between Francesca and Paolo] in the third act is just unbelievable. It’s amazingly written, the text is so beautiful and poetic. In this production, everything comes together. It’s so true to the story. Nowadays that’s not the case anymore, like in the Monte Carlo production.

Q. This marks only your second time in the role. How has your interpretation evolved?

A. The Monte Carlo production was beautiful but not true to the actual story. Here at the Met, it’s really very much what the text says. Also, there were loads of cuts, which have been restored at the Met. It was almost like learning a whole other opera!

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