In the MET production of Giordano's Fedora from 1997 longtime MET and international favourite soprano Mirella Freni reconquered New York as a glamorous Russian princess involved with a dashing aristocratic spy (the wildly cheered Plácido Domingo, triumphing in a part Enrico Caruso created). Roberto Abbado conducts.
Beppe de Tomasi's production, borrowed from the Liceu in Barcelona and first seen at the Met in October 1996 (the video performance comes from the second run the following April) takes the theatrical conventions of the opera at face value. It is well served by Ferruccio Villagrossi's appropriately period-specific designs, with their opulent representation of belle époque high society.
Mirella Freni did not disappoint either her audience or the critics, who were unanimous in their praise for her dramatic authority and the power, warmth and brilliance of her voice. Regal epithets were in the air, and the partnership of Freni and Domingo was described as "operatic royalty".
Domingo has repeatedly declared the role of Loris Ipanov to be among his favourites. Loris has barely appeared on stage when he is asked to sing the most famous number in the score, the show-stopping aria "Amor ti vieta"; during the first run, the New York critic for the British Opera magazine found this and the similarly brief aria "Vedi, io piango" from later in the act "almost worth the price of admission in themselves", but Domingo's concern to build up his character from the high tone of this entrance was equally acclaimed in the press, and Newsday found that in his hands "the last act's ineluctable moment of revelation crackled where in another performance it might have creaked."
The sparring partners the diplomat De Siriex and the flirtatious Countess Olga Sukarov are played by the baritone Dwayne Croft and the Basque soprano Ainhoa Arteta. In their sequence of verbal jousting, Croft's suavely sung "La donna russa" is matched by Olga's frequently cut song comparing French men to champagne. By the third act they seem ready to settle their differences, after the revelation that Olga's Polish pianist protégé was a spy (although we knew all along that he was Jean-Yves Thibaudet, making a voiceless Met debut).
Freni made her stage debut as Micaëla in Carmen in 1955. Here she is on the Met stage more than 40 years later, her incomparable, securely supported voice intact, a tribute to the care she has taken with it and her choice of repertoire over the years.