Franco Alfano’s name is inextricably linked to that of Puccini, as he’s mostly remembered for completing the unfinished score of Turandot, and has overshadowed his own operas. Composed in 1903, Risurrezione was first performed in November 1904, nine months after the première of Madama Butterfly. The subject is taken from the last of Tolstoy’s novels by the same title (“Resurrection”) and is loosely adapted in the libretto, which skims most of the moral tribulations of the protagonist Prince Dimitri to focus on the more classic, personal drama of the seduced-and-abandoned ingénue. So far so Madama Butterfly. Not only are the orchestration and vocal lines highly reminiscent of Puccini, but also the first act duet – the seduction scene – holds a similarity to Cio-Cio-San and Pinkerton's duet. Although very tempting, it would be unfair to read Alfano’s work in light of this comparison.

Niamh White and Anne-Sophie Duprels (Katyusha) © Clive Barda
Niamh White and Anne-Sophie Duprels (Katyusha)
© Clive Barda

Risurrezione’s peculiarity lies in its accentuated realism, and in its combination of a moral and social theme. Following the heartbreak of abandonment and of the death of her child, Katyusha becomes a prostitute and ends up in prison by being unjustly accused of a crime. Once Prince Dimitri discovers the tragic outcome of his wrongdoing, he visits Katyusha in prison and asks her to marry him. She is so devastated that she mocks Dimitri and refuses his proposal. But Dimitri is determined to find redemption by helping Katyusha to return herself, so he follows her in Siberia and keeps visiting her in prison. Little by little, Katyusha recovers from her despair and, while still loving Dimitri, decides to marry Simonson, a fellow prisoner who has fallen in love with her.

Director Rosetta Cucchi wisely opts for a traditional and literal staging with a few, questionable exceptions. The first act is set on Dimitri’s old bedroom, but the background is meta-theatrically filled with the painting of a demon (Mikhail Vrubel’s The demon seated) which carries a metaphorical reference to the story: the demon fell in love with a princess who died upon being kissed by him. Apart from the audience needing an external and not obvious reading key for the painting’s meaning, its overwhelming presence disrupts the scenic fiction.

Gerard Schneider (Dimitri) and Anne-Sophie Duprels (Katyusha) © Clive Barda
Gerard Schneider (Dimitri) and Anne-Sophie Duprels (Katyusha)
© Clive Barda

We encounter another incongruity in the first duet between Dimitri and Katyusha: from firmly holding back from Dimitri’s advances, Katyusha suddenly becomes uninhibited and lets herself fall on the floor with Dmitri, laying her head on his laps with inexplicable confidence while chatting away about the past. They kiss passionately. Except for the libretto strongly contradicting this scene a few lines later (Dimitri urges Katiusha to kiss him on the lips – “dobbiamo baciarci sulla bocca!”), but she replies that you only kiss on the lips a husband or a brother (“No! Dimitri, solo i mariti si baciano o i fratelli: gli altri sulla fronte.”). The choice of spicing up things here was clearly not appropriate and it only dilutes the huge change that Katyusha undergoes in the opera from innocent soul to lost woman.

The set of the third act, similarly, deviates from the directions of the libretto for the scene. We see a cavernous, factory-like room, full of women working at sewing machines. Although the dark grey colour palette of set and costumes certainly captures the mood of the scene, it is not immediately clear that this is a prison, therefore somewhat weakening the shock for the change that Katyusha has undergone.

The set design by Tiziano Santi is otherwise simple but very effective, especially in the second and the fourth act (the little train station and then the glaring white of Siberia), as well as the costumes (by Claudia Pernigotti) being very credible and appropriate.

Veta Pilipenko, Henry Grant Kerswell and Gerard Schneider (Dimitri) © Clive Barda
Veta Pilipenko, Henry Grant Kerswell and Gerard Schneider (Dimitri)
© Clive Barda

The cast were all very good, with tenor Gerard Schneider (Dimitri) strongly leading it. He executed equally radiantly the highest pitches and the pianissimos, with an extremely alluring and delectable timbre. The role of Katyusha, almost constantly present on the scene, demanded a strong actress and a sensitive phrasing more than a vocal display of bravura, and soprano Anne-Sophie Duprels certainly delivered. As typical of verismo operas, the tessitura lies relatively low, but Duprels negotiated the infrequent high pitches with ease. That said, especially in the duets with Schneider, you could perceive some want in her depth of tone.

Baritone Charles Rice, although appearing only briefly in the fourth act, made an impression in the role of Simonson, while mezzo Romina Tomasoni was good in the supporting roles of the Governante and Anna. The Orchestra of Wexford Festival Opera sounded very polished under the assured conduction of the young Francesco Cilluffo.

Even if with some flaws, this was a high quality production and the audience on the opening night responded with great enthusiasm.

****1