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Rediscovering Edgar

St. Patrick’s Church, Rockville, Maryland
11/14/2009 -  & November 22, 2009*
Giacomo Puccini: Edgar
Harry Dunstan (Edgar), Kay Krekow (Fidelia), Heather Roberts (Tigrana), Daniel Sherwood (Frank), Michael J. Begley (Gualtiero)
The American Center for Puccini Studies, The Puccini Festival Chorus and Children’s Chorus, Dr. Alfred Clark (Pianist)

K. Krekow, H. Dunstan, H. Roberts (© David Chisham)

The American Center for Puccini Studies, under the direction of world renowned Puccini scholar Dr. Harry N. Dunstan, specializes in the research and presentation of unusual performing editions of Puccini’s works. The ACPS has introduced many of Puccini’s neglected works and has given the World Premieres of several editions including the original version of Suor Angelica, which showcased the hitherto unknown “Aria of the Flowers”. In addition to the opera presentations there are lectures given in discussion of the works, and frequently there are presentations of the original play upon which the opera is based, such as Victorien Sardou’s La Tosca or The Cup and The Lips by Alfred de Musset (the source material for Edgar), which was presented on November 15. The ACPS approaches these works passionately and has a welcome appreciation of their historical context, and they are striving to preserve an authentic performance tradition of the Puccini operas that could soon be irretrievably lost.

Edgar is the very first of Puccini’s major operas…and it is unmistakably a major work in spite of its relative obscurity. The original four act opera was premiered at La Scala in 1889. When performed today, which is very seldom, it is done in an amputated three act version. The act four manuscript of Edgar and the copyist’s parts were missing and presumed lost until late 2007. This performance by the ACPS is based on the piano/vocal scores (spartiti) published between the La Scala premiere and the performances in Lucca in 1891. Puccini reflected to one of his first biographers that “I poured my best music into Edgar.” It is certainly true that he recycled much of the music of Edgar into many of his other operas. And it is difficult to suppress a smile when listening to this opera as you hear entire sections that later became famous in Manon Lescaut, Tosca, Madama Butterfly, La fanciulla del West, and Turandot. This performance is the American premiere of the Lucca edition, and the first time the complete four act version has been revived since it was last performed in Lucca in 1891.

The libretto by Ferdinando Fontana is based on the dramatic poem La Coupe by Alfred de Musset. The action takes place in Flanders between April and July of 1302. It concerns an actual historical figure who was the hero of the “Battle of the Golden Spurs,” which is still celebrated to this day in Belgium. The story of Edgar is the classical arc of the Hero’s Journey: Departure, Initiation, Enlightenment/Atonement, Death, and Return. It reminded me a great deal of the story of Tannhaüser, and indeed, Puccini and Fontana were attempting to bring a type of Wagnerian music drama to the new school of Italian opera while still following the philosophical aesthetics of the scapigliatura of the 1880’s. In style it is unlike any of the other operas by Puccini. I would describe it as “Grand Opera meets Verismo,” and as such it is much more akin to Ponchielli’s La Gioconda than to Mascagni’s < I>Cavalleria Rusticana.

The excellent cast of this performance argued well for establishing Edgar in the standard cannon of Puccini’s operas. Tenor Harry Dunstan’s heroic, ringing voice and committed portrayal brought the character of Edgar vividly to life. His voice has plenty of the required “squillo” so necessary to the style of Puccini’s tenors. Soprano Kay Krekow as Fidelia, Edgar’s true and pure love, was resplendent vocally. She is a throwback to the Italian verismo sopranos of the pre-World War II era. Ms. Krekow’s voice is astonishingly large and free. Her top notes make quite an impression in the forte passages, and her floated piano notes caress the ear in a most tender and haunting manner. She received several ovations during the performance.

The largest female role however is that of the sultry, evil, and jaded gypsy temptress Tigrana, who leads Edgar down the path of moral debauchery and decay. Any mezzo would “kill” to sing this role. Heather Roberts was riveting in the part. She too has an enormous and powerful voice, and she apparently has no trouble even with the top C. Her descents into chest voice were cavernous. She was truly thrilling and made a distinct impression on the audience. Baritone Daniel Sherwood as Fidelia’s brother Frank, and baritone Michael J. Begley as Gualtiero, the father of Fidelia and Frank, were also superb. They continued the vocal standard set by the principals of the cast and rendered believably dramatic portrayals. It made for an evening sustained and compelling performances by all involved in the production.

The Puccini Festival Chorus and Children’s Chorus must be given special mention. Edgar has the largest chorus ever written into a Puccini opera. It is even grander than the choruses of Turandot. The chorus dominate each act of the opera. This choral ensemble was very well trained and sang with the full-bodied tone of a professional opera chorus. Their singing made a great impact throughout the entire opera. They are to be heartily commended.

Pianist Alfred Clark played as if he had four hands. He was an entire orchestra unto himself. Playing orchestral reductions of opera scores on the pianoforte is a specialized art form. The pianist must know what to leave out and most importantly, what to add. Dr. Clark has it down to a science. It was a joy to hear him play.

I would expect the ACPS to soon publish a working edition of the Lucca version of Edgar. There is enormous research and rediscovery in this edition. Hopefully it will prompt the larger opera companies to re-consider Edgar>/I> as a viable Puccini work and finally establish it in the repertoire of international opera companies where it belongs.

The American Center for Puccini Studies

Micaele Sparacino



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