If he’s remembered at all today, Franco Alfano (1875-1954) is known as the man tasked with completing Puccini’s Turandot. It should come as no surprise that he wasn’t plucked from obscurity for that honour, having by six operas already under his belt (he’d go on to write another five, of which Cyrano de Bergerac from 1936 is probably his best known).

Risurrezione

Written in 1904, Risurrezione was his third opera and was a success at its Turin premiere. The work takes its inspiration from a book that was still new at the time: Tolstoy’s 1899 novel Resurrection. “Recoiling from catastrophes, I believed and still believe in the renovation, regeneration, and final purification of human passions from evil to goodness,” wrote Alfano in his memoirs, expressing ideas that tally perfectly with the ethical and spiritual philosophy of the great Russian writer. In fact, Alfano and his librettist Cesare Hanau pared down Tolstoy’s dramatic narrative to its bare essentials in order to throw the maximum spotlight onto the fall and rise of its heroine, Katyusha.

In the first act, the young peasant girl is seduced by the handsome Prince Dimitri who abandons her to go to war unaware that she is pregnant with his child. Dismissed from her post, Katyusha is prevented from revealing the birth and subsequent death of her child and turns to prostitution before a false accusation sees her condemned to prison. Dimitri, who was one of her jurors, attempts to see her but is rejected. He makes a final offer to marry her on route for Siberia, but by this time she has met Simonson, an altruistic political prisoner. Katyusha’s choice to stay with Simonson and help him in his good works sees her redeemed in a final orchestral apotheosis.

The score is skilfully constructed and very much in the typical verismo vein of Cilea or Giordano. The musical story drives forward at a rate of knots, only really pausing for a series of soaring duets for the two lovers. Its chief fault, alas, is an absence of truly memorable melodies (though nothing that goes by is less than competently crafted). Nevertheless, as Rosetta Cucchi’s handsome 2020 staging for Maggio Musicale Fiorentino proves, it’s effective enough as drama even if it’s unlikely to make a major comeback any time soon.

Cucchi’s takes a naturalistic approach with well-realised functional sets (Tiziano Santi), period costumes (Claudia Pernigotti) and Ginevra Lombardo’s effective lighting helping to create convincing moods. As Katyusha, Anne Sophie Duprels delivers a committed and passionate performance, her full-throated soprano is a liitle squally but she’s generally affecting, especially in the demanding prison scene (which oddly contains the score’s jolliest music!) Matthew Vickers displays a bright lyric tenor as Dimitri, and the lean, focussed baritone of Leon Kim is a standout as Simonson. Video production is fine with decent, though slightly scruffy sound. The same production is also available on CD (Dynamic CDS7866), though visuals make its case more effectively. Clive Paget

Composer: Alfano
Work: Risurrezione
Performers: Anne Sophie Duprels s, Matthew Vickers t, Leon Kim bar, Maggio Musicale Fiorentino/Francesco Lanzillotta
Label: Dynamic 37866 (DVD) or 57866 (Blu-ray)

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