Risurrezione

Franco Alfano (1875–1954)

21, 27, 30 October |  2, 5 November

Opera in four acts by Franco Alfano (1875–1954)

Libretto by Cesare Hanau based on the novel Resurrection by Leo Tolstoy, sung in Italian with English Surtitles

First performed at the Teatro Vittorio Emanuele, Turin, Italy on 30 November 1904

Franco Alfano is remembered today less for his own operas than for his role in completing another composer’s work – Turandot, left unfinished at the time of Puccini’s death. But there is more to his output than that would suggest, more even than his own ten or so operas would indicate, since he paid closer attention to the fields of orchestral and chamber music than many of his contemporaries. Risurrezione, the opera that brought Alfano his first taste of fame, premiered in Turin in 1904 (the same year as Puccini’s Madama Butterfly). Its Russian subject matter – the opera is based on Tolstoy’s last great novel, Resurrection – anticipates a fashion in early 20th-century Italian opera; see also Giordano’s Siberia and Fedora.

Risurrezione tells of the young aristocrat, Nekhlyudov, who while serving on a jury recognises the prostitute Katerina Maslova as the young girl he had once seduced, and how he rejects his former life and follows her to Siberia, trying to undo past wrongs. Tolstoy’s complex critique of Russian society was particularly unsparing in its gaze on the Orthodox Church, so much so that it led to the writer’s formal excommunication, and the first complete Russian text was actually published in England. Ironically, given the adaptations that have been made of his work for the lyric stage, Tolstoy hated opera because he thought it superficial (in War and Peace he set the scene of Natasha’s undoing at an opera performance). But he even became critical of his own works, such as that panoramic novel and Anna Karenina, and began to see art as serving a social purpose: Resurrection was something of a manifesto. Little of that comes through in Alfano’s adaptation, and his opera concentrates on the drama of personal relationships. But he does so in a manner that makes it easy to understand how the opera quickly became a hit in operatic capitals from Paris to Chicago, containing as it does such hits as ‘Dio pietoso’, a one-time favourite of the legendary Mary Garden and other sopranos since.

 

21 October performance generously supported by
STEPHEN VERNON

 

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