Yes yes, Alfano is the Turandot-completion guy. We all know it. And if we didn't, we do now. This was his most successful solo opera, but even then, it didn't appear on video until last year, with this January 2020 performance--I suppose at the time everyone was blissfully unaware of the coming plague.
This is based on the late Tolstoy novel that no one seems to read. I certainly haven't. Katyusha is a servant in a noble house. The scion, Prince Dmitri, returns home after a three year absence. He declares himself in love with her, and after a little initial hesitation, she goes along with this and ends up pregnant. That's the first act. In the second, she's been driven from the house (for reasons that aren't really clear--probably the novel would fill in a lot of details). She wants to see Dmitri again, but she fails and despairs. In the third act, she's in a women's prison (for some, again, kind of vague crime that she's alleged to have committed). Her child has died and she's sort of half-forgotten her previous life and identity, and when Dmitri comes by to try to take her away and marry her, she refuses. The last act is in the Siberian labor camp she's been exiled to. She's come to her senses and spends her time helping the other inmates. Again Dmitri appears and again offers to marry her, but she refuses, feeling that this is their only road to redemption (though she may or may not marry another prisoner who's in love with her; that is never resolved), although she does receive a pardon. There is a lot of talk about how she's starting a new life. Resurrection, Do You See?
Well, this is clearly an opera on the Verdi-Puccini spectrum, it will not surprise you to hear. And you know, it's pretty good! There are moments when the narrative seems a little slack, it's true, but there's also some real passion. I liked it. I found it powerful. Why did they stop making music like this? Oh, right, because composers like Alfano and Pizzetti sullied their names by cozying up to Italy's fascist government. You know, you could make a reasonable case that in addition to, uh, a few other things, World War II destroyed Italy's operatic tradition. Not that these guys weren't active after the war, but you know. Still, don't hold that against this work. That would be foolish.
I also think a special shout-out has to go to the excellent production work here. There's nothing that you would call particularly startling here, but it's just really well-done stuff, and I love that striking image on the DVD cover, which comes from the very end. I also want to single out Anne-Sophie Duprels' performance as Katyusha; at first, I wasn't really feeling it and found her acting a little goofy, but as the opera progressed I really started to appreciate her. She is called upon to have a wide emotional range, and she really nails it. Is this the first time I've seen her? Crazy.
Also, this is neither here nor there, but in looking up Leon Kim, who plays Simonson, the other prisoner in love with her, I stumbled upon this blog: Barihunks: The Sexiest Baritone Hunks from Opera. And although it seems to be on hiatus for the pandemic, if you look in the archives you can see that it's been a VERY prolific blog. They are goddamn serious about their sexxxy baritones. Some might call their remit excessively limited, but I say, follow your bliss! I find the devotion to a particular passion to be inspiring.