Charles Affron, Mirella Jona Affron: Publications

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

More Magda Olivero: Two Death Scenes

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The response to our post on Magda Olivero suggested an interest in a second devoted to this remarkable performer. We focus here on two death scenes of operas that occupied places of privilege in Olivero’s repertoire. Francesco Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur and Umberto Giordano’s Fedora, both based on melodramas written for Sarah Bernhardt, were particularly suited to Olivero’s expressive powers. Each offered a protracted scene in which the character breathes her last as she sings. The soprano’s fil di voce, literally “thread of voice,” shrouded the slow demise of the heroines as they succumb to poison.

At the dénouement of Giordano’s opera, Fedora, who in a misbegotten gesture of patriotism has caused the death of Loris’s brother and mother, takes poison rather than suffer the wrath of the lover she has betrayed. He forgives her as she dies in his arms. This clip is taken from a 1967 program at Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw where Olivero was a great favorite. Loris is the tenor Doro Antonioli.

The finale of Adriana Lecouvreur is drawn from an historic 1959 performance at the San Carlo of Naples in which Olivero replaced the indisposed Renata Tebaldi. In the dream cast were Franco Corelli, Giulietta Simionato, and Ettore Bastianini. This fourteen-minute excerpt allows us to register the unusual array of dynamics and colors Olivero had at her command. It begins with the lyric duet that reunites the actress and her lover, Maurizio (Corelli). A moment later, Adriana begins to feel the effects of the poisoned flowers sent by a jealous rival for Maurizio’s affections. She has a delirious outburst, then faints. Maurizio and Michonnet (Bastianini), Adriana’s friend, understand that she is dying. When she regains consciousness she believes herself to be Melpomene, the muse of tragedy, transfigured by a shaft of light. She expires as Olivero’s ineffably spun legato phrases fade away. You should perhaps lower the volume to compensate for some stridency in the live recording.

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