Excellent Cast and Superb ‘Federico’s Lament’ in Rare L’arlesiana Revival

GermanyGermany Cilea, L’arlesiana: Orchestra and Chorus of the Deutsche Oper Berlin / Paolo Arrivabeni (conductor), Deutsche Oper, Berlin, 24.2.2018. (JMI)

Joseph Calleja (Federico) & Mariangela Sicilia (Vivetta) perform L’arlesiana © Bettina Stöss

Concert Version
Federico – Joseph Calleja
Rosa Mamai – Dolora Zajick
Vivetta – Mariangela Sicilia
Baldasarre – Markus Brück
Metifio – Seth Carico
L’Inocente – Meechot Marrero
Marco – Byung Gil Kim

Francesco Cilea (1866-1950) is an Italian composer who belongs to the verismo period. It can be said that he has gone down in history for one opera, Adriana Lecouvreur – at least, it is the only one of his works that is occasionally performed. In fact, he composed and premiered five operas, of which L’arlesiana (1897) precedes Adriana Lecouvreur. L’arlesiana is an authentic rarity, but opera lovers know it for the beautiful aria, ‘Il lamento de Federico’, which many tenors have performed in concerts and recordings.

The truth is that the opera’s libretto is of little interest, and the orchestration is lacking in inspiration, although there are a few memorable moments (the aforementioned aria, a tenor/soprano duet and the mezzo-soprano’s arioso). I’m afraid the work will continue to be obscure, but that won’t prevent one from enjoying, with some regularity, that famous tenor aria.

The Deutsche Oper Berlin has decided to dust off the opera, and has done so in concert form with an excellent cast, which means the opera was well served musically. Conductor Paolo Arrivabeni, the current musical director of the Opera of Liège, offered a correct reading, one that was full of energy; he took care of the singers and drew a good sound from the orchestra. The Deutsche Oper Chorus did not have many opportunities to show off, with only sporadic contributions.

The protagonist of the opera is Federico, the elder son of Rosa Mamai. He is in love with a girl from Arles who does not have a very good reputation, and the discovery of the supposed treason of his beloved will lead him to commit suicide. This character was interpreted by the Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja, who offered a brilliant performance: he has a powerful voice and sang with gusto. Of course, the highlight was his interpretation of ‘Federico’s Lament’, which was superb and earned him an almost endless ovation.

Rosa Mamai, the mother of Federico and the young L’Inocente, was played by mezzo-soprano Dolora Zajick. This veteran artist continues to have a terrific voice, especially at the top of the range, although at the bottom it is weaker than before. The biggest problem was that she always sang with her head literally inside the score. In a concert version, a singer must rely on the score, but she or he cannot sing without looking up from it. Otherwise, one cannot offer even a trace of emotion to the audience.

Italian soprano Mariangela Sicilia gave life to Vivetta, the young girl in love with Federico. She replaced the initially announced Guanqun Yu. She left a good impression, singing enthusiastically and with an attractive voice.

Baldasarre, the old shepherd, was played by German baritone Markus Brück, who again offered a flawless vocal performance, with a broad and splendid voice. It is always a pleasure to listen to him.

Seth Carico was very good as Metifio, the lover of the Arlesiana, and Meechot Marrero did well as the Innocent. Byung Gil Kim in the character of Marco, the brother of Rosa Mamai, made a fine impression.

José M. Irurzun

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