A lush score, gripping melodrama, and a prima donna for the ages: Umberto Giordano’s Fedora is an opera lover’s opera. The work follows a 19th-century Russian princess who falls in love with her fiancé’s murderer, only to destroy her second chance at love, and the success of the piece hinges on the vocal and theatrical talents of its leading soprano. In David McVicar’s new production, the first at the Met in 25 years, the luminous Sonya Yoncheva is rising to the occasion. Fedora plays at the Met until January 28.
Through a multitude of show-stopping arias and enchanting duets, Giordano’s Fedora explores opera’s most adored themes—love, adultery, revenge, murder, suicide—in rapturous and dramatic music that delivers passion in every breath. At its heart is one woman’s reckoning with the deaths around her—a journey that takes the title character from St. Petersburg to Paris and on to the Swiss Alps. It’s
also about the deaths that cause her own demise. The heroine is initially hell-bent on avenging the murder of her fiancé, Count Vladimir, only to discover his past infidelity. The man who reveals the affair is also Vladimir’s killer, Count Loris Ipanoff, whose wife was his victim’s lover. Though Loris and Fedora fall in love, the romance is foiled once again by untimely death.
“Fedora is incredibly entertaining,” says director David McVicar. “It’s a great opportunity for the leading lady to chew the scenery up.” Over three short acts, the capricious Fedora must embody a wide spectrum of emotions ranging from hopelessly infatuated to paralyzed with grief, relentlessly vengeful to desperate and suicidal. She must also maintain her regal poise while showing weakness and vulnerability, allowing the audience to sympathize with her mistakes and pity her demise. In other words, it’s a major challenge for any singer—and renowned soprano Sonya Yoncheva, a Met superstar since her 2013 debut, promises to deliver.
Fedora began as a play by Victorien Sardou, written in 1882 for the leading actress of the day, Sarah Bernhardt, who had one of her greatest triumphs in the title role.
Giordano unveiled his operatic adaptation in Milan six years later, with Gemma Bellincioni, one of the great singing actresses of her day, as Fedora—a premiere that also launched the career of a then-unknown tenor named Enrico Caruso, who originated the role of Count Loris Ipanoff.
The opera had its U.S. premiere at the Met on December 5, 1906, with Lina Cavalieri as Fedora and Caruso reprising his star-making turn. In the 115 years since, it has appeared on the Met stage only 35 times, though it has always boasted star power: Legendary voices of several generations have brought
Giordano’s score to life, including sopranos Maria Jeritza and Mirella Freni, and tenors Giovanni Martinelli, Edward Johnson, Beniamino Gigli, and Plácido Domingo.
Following in these prodigious footsteps, the new production marks the first reunion of Yoncheva and tenor Piotr Beczała since their thrilling 2018 partnership in Verdi’s Luisa Miller. Rounding out the exceptional cast is breakout star Rosa Feola, whom Met audiences know for her radiant performances as Gilda in Rigoletto last season and this fall. Opposite Feola in the role of the French diplomat De Siriex is baritone Artur Ruciński, returning to the Met following his impressive performance as Enrico in Lucia di Lammermoor last spring.
Giordano was a member of the “giovane scuola” (“young school”) of composers to succeed Verdi, and Verdi’s influence appears throughout Fedora. For contemporary listeners, Fedora’s music also evokes the glamorous scores of Old Hollywood epics.
The lead tenor claims the most famous aria, Act II’s “Amor ti vieta,” a romantic solo that has achieved popularity beyond the opera house, but the many other highlights include Fedora’s lovely entrance aria and her devastating final scene, which takes on an almost-biblical quality as she begs God for forgiveness.
Also embedded in the score is Giordano’s talent for composition that reflects its local and historical setting. To evoke St. Petersburg in Act I, he layers in undertones of Russian folk music. In Act II, after we meet the pianist Lazinski—whom Countess Olga describes as the “grandson and successor to Chopin”—Giordano adds delicate, Chopin-inspired melodies. At the beginning of Act III, as Fedora and Loris travel to Switzerland, Giordano incorporates poignant Swiss Alpine melodies, relishing in the lovers’ brief honeymoon before tragedy strikes. To depict Fedora’s three international settings, designer Charles Edwards has devised an ingenious fixed set that, like a Russian doll, reveals itself as the evening progresses.
“The idea of the set is memory, so each act morphs into the next,” McVicar says. “There’s always an element of the Russian scene present in the Paris scene, and there’s always an element of the Paris scene present in the Swiss scene.” Though the set unfolds, the portrait of Fedora’s fiancé, Vladimir, remains
hanging throughout. His image haunts Fedora, first as she seeks to avenge his death and then when she learns of his betrayal—a reminder of the mainspring of her tragedy and the past that she cannot escape.
Below, see images from Fedora at the Met.