Umberto Giordano bridged the transition between 19th century Romanticism and the new-fangled Verismo with which he, along with several other young braves, conquered the Italian Opera stages of the first three or so decades of the 20th century. He triumphed with his Andrea Chenier, a melodrama about the love of two rivals (tenor and baritone) for one woman (soprano), and again scored big with his Fedora, a work that reappears once-in-a-while these days if there are a star tenor and soprano to take it on.

When it comes to Siberia, Giordano did not fare all that well. The troubling issues started with Luigi Illica, who was the foremost Italian librettist. Illica penned a mammoth libretto for Siberia, which Giordano found unwieldy. A severely trimmed version was premiered at La Scala in 1903 as a last-minute substitution for a cancelled Madame Butterfly, and not even the presence of a stellar cast – Giovanni Zenatello, Rosina Storchio and Giuseppe de Luca – could save Giordano’s work from failure. Siberia fell into a kind of oblivion from which not even a 1927 revision could save it.

In 1903 Russia, with its endless Siberian extension to the East was a terra incognita to most Europeans, and it was not until the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution that the world began to hear of the horrors visited on countless Russians who were dispatched to the Siberian Gulag with little hope of ever surviving their prison terms let alone returning of their former lives. The pogroms of Stalin and the subsequent violations of human rights by the succeeding Soviets perpetrated these crimes against humanity.

Given that terrible history and the present criminal political expansionism of Vladimir Putin, it is timely and compelling that the Roberto Andò 2021 production for the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino recently given an impeccable release by Dynamic (itself in a video world premiere) be set in Russia in the grim early 1950 days of Stalin’s regime.

To the best of our knowledge this is the 1927 revised version of Giordano’s work, and its running time does not overstay its welcome, thanks in no small part to the peerless trio of principals – Bulgarian soprano Sonya Yoncheva, Georgian tenor Giorgi Sturua, and Rumanian baritone George Petean. 

Add to that mix a dozen supporting singers, another dozen-plus group of acting extras, the superb chorus and orchestra of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, and Gianandrea Noseda at the helm, and Dynamic has a winner.

Kudos too to the stage director Roberto Andò, who leads the entire production with acute sensitivity and a sharp eye for the dramatic truth of the story. And hats off to the incomparable design team of Gianni Carluccio (set and lights), Nana Cecchi (costumes), and Luca Scarzella (video), who manage to find a varied pictorial palette in the unending drabness of the Siberian wasteland and the desolate indoor prison scenes.

The vocal writing is – typically of Verismo – demanding, with much of it lying smack in the middle of the middle voice – Yoncheva surmounts all its demands with flying colors, shining in several of her set pieces: “Non odi là il martir”, “Nel so amore”, “Qual vergogna tu porti” and “Nel suo amore rianimata.” The Georgian tenor Giorgi Sturua successfully acquits himself alone and opposite Yoncheva’s Stephana.

Perhaps Siberia’s time has come if whatever enterprising company that sets out to stage this work with its cast of fifteen and its many changes of scenery has the encompassing artistic vision in evidence in this excellent production.

Rafael de Acha

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