Sara Jakubiak in the title role of ‘Francesca da Rimini’ at the Deutsche Oper Berlin confrontation with Števa and achieving real grandeur in the final scene. Herlitzius’s Kostelnička was a creation of great tragic stature, fearlessly sung with music and text ideally wedded. Schwarz brought a quiet authority to the old grandmother. With subtle vocalism, Ladislav Elgr managed to make Števa both attractive and repellent, while Stuart Skelton lent heroic tones to Laca. Suggesting an ancient Greek tragedy, the chorus sang scattered throughout the auditorium, braving the huge distances to beautiful effect. Simon Rattle, who has already conducted From the House of the Dead and Katya Kabanova in this house (as well as The Cunning Little Vixen with the Berlin Philharmonic), reportedly tweaked the instrumentation to avoid an excessively full orchestra pit. Be that as it may, I didn’t miss anything vital: Janáček’s music worked its unique magic in a forceful, punch-packing reading.
The deutsche oper followed suit with Francesca da Rimini (streamed on March 14 in collaboration with takt1.de), the second instalment in a planned trilogy that began in 2018 with Das Wunder der Heliane and—as the director Christof Loy disclosed in an interview—is set to be completed with Der Schatzgräber. As with the Korngold opera, Loy set the action in an anonymous present, with practically all the characters in uniformly black-and-white attire; this relaxed only slightly as springtime arrived in Act 3, when Francesca’s maids were allowed some floral patterns in their dresses. The lovers’ scenes were played out in front of a Claude Lorraine landscape, seen through a winter garden, while the everpresent minstrel, who began the opera as a jeans-clad musician, morphed into a medieval troubadour in the course of the evening. Thanks to sensitive video direction from Götz Filenius, Loy’s detailed Personenregie could be followed at close quarters to beautiful effect. It was moving to be shown how much Gianciotto Malatesta cared for Paolo, and to hear how he ‘found sweeter accents’—as the stage directions have it—to address Francesca in Act 3.
Ivan Inverardi inflected Gianciotto’s music with vibrant expression, making much of D’Annunzio’s convoluted text. With sexy three-day stubble, Jonathan Tetelman certainly brought the physique du rôle to Paolo ‘il bello’, and negotiated the sensuous lines of his Tristanesque invocation to night with mellifluous ease. Charles Workman gave considerable weight to Malatestino, in Loy’s reading a strong character who exerts his own kind of fascination on Francesca. Sara Jakubiak shone in the title role, her voice
Opera, May 2021