Fedora: A Good Bad Opera
One critic wrote about Sarah Bernhardt's portrayal of Fedora: "Sardou's Fedora, the strongest drama written in recent years, with Sarah Bernhardt as the heroine--a character unquestionably suggested by the eccentric French actress's remarkable skill in the simulation of conflicting passions--presents a combination of ingenuity, constructive and dramatic eloquence that is not likely to be equaled on the stage within the knowledge of playgoers now living."
|Act 2 of Fedora, photo @Ken Howard|
There's no emotional buy-in for the opera's melodramatic plot. Characters are dropped onstage, and their backstory and motivations are often understood with a letter, or a line or two of dialogue. For instance, Fedora's whole motivation for becoming a honey-pot spy is to avenge her beloved late fiancé Vladimir. But we never see Vladimir with Fedora. By the time they are onstage together, Vladimir is mortally wounded. Director David McVicar attempts to offset this by having a ghost Vladimir trail Fedora through the opera. But that just makes clumsy dramaturgy even more artificial.
|Fedora, photo @ Ken Howard|
It's all plot mechanics without any character development. If you think about the classic verismo operas, there is melodrama yes, but there's also character development. For instance, in the oft-maligned Adriana Lecouvreur, there is a long scene where Adriana and Principessa come to realize they are in love with the same man and this leads to a catfight between the two women. The story is allowed to breathe before the next plot mechanism.
Umberto Giordano's score reminds me of the soundtrack to one of those 1930's MGM costume dramas -- lush, melodic, but it stays in the background. It didn't grab me. The opera's big hit tune "Amor ti vieta" is really a 2 minute aria that in full context comes and goes without much fanfare. The two duets between Fedora and Loris are more meaty, but as I said, the music stays in the background. Even the protracted death scene has little emotional impact. The music doesn't pop out and grab you. It's empty calories.
|Yoncheva, Feola, Meachem photo @ Ken Howard|
|Act 2 of Fedora, photo @ Ken Howard|