Franco Alfano (1876 -1954), the composer of this evenings attractive tragic fairytale, was a highly respected musical figure in Italy throughout the first half of the 20th century, composing operas, chamber works, ballets and songs, but is chiefly remembered today as the man who completed Turandot. La Leggenda di Sakntala had its premire in Dec 1921, and, on account of its discreet success, Alfano was commissioned by Toscanini to complete the unfinished Turandot for its posthumous premier on 25 April 1925, drawing on sketches left by Puccini. In the event, the great conductor did not use the new music for the first night, although he did add it for the next performances. Alfanos completion is generally regarded as acceptable rather than inspired, a judgment which might also be applied to the music of La Leggenda di Sakntala, rather unvaryingly lush and mostly loud.
The setting is exotic, in an India of indeterminate period and rather in that tradition so popular at the end of the 19th century/beginning of the 20th which produced Lakm, Les Pcheurs de perles, Madama Butterfly and others, in a vaguely defined orient starting somewhere east of the Suez Canal.
Sets, by Maurizio Varamo, are simple and splendid, with flights of steps for dancers and singers to run up and down, great temple doors of fretted stone, and rocks, as are the really beautiful costumes worn by all the large cast. Gianluigi Gelmetti puts all possible enthusiasm into his conducting of the dense score and the orchestra of the Teatro dellOpera respond with gusto.
The principal singers are first rate. Francesca Patan as the priestess heroine is a real winner, with the looks of a fashion model (which is what she started her working career as) and a firm, strong voice; it is easy to understand why King Dusyanta, the tenor David Rendall, falls for her. His voice is of great class. Sakntalas handmaidens, the mezzo, Elena Cassian, as Priymvada and the soprano, Anna Rita Taliento, as Ansuya make all possible of their roles, singing and acting most tenderly. The powerful and angry hermit, Durvasas, whose curse is the pivot of the action, is Alessandro Guerzoni, and the seer Kanva, Sakntalas adoptive father, is the Bulgarian bass Orlin Anastassov, powerful in voice and imposing in stature.
Full marks, then, to the Teatro dellOpera di Roma for putting on this rarity in a production which is magnificent visually and vocally; the pity is that the music does not quite live up to the spectacle.
Teatro dellOpera di Roma at the Teatro Nazionale, Via del Viminale 51, Rome. Tel. 06481601 www.opera.roma.it 21 April 2006. Further performances 22, 23, 26, 27 and 28