Italo Montemezzi: L’amore dei tre re

The first performance, conducted by Arturo Toscanini and featuring Lucrezia
Bori as Fiora, was acclaimed by both audience and critics, the opera widely
acknowledged as an important addition to the MET’s repertory.† Subsequent
seasons found Toscanini and Bori returning to the piece, along with
performances conducted by Tullio Serafin with Rosa Ponselle as Fiora and Ezio
Pinza as Archibaldo.† The opera was selected to open the MET’s forty-fourth
season in 1928, and the composer himself conducted the score in New York in
1941, when the glamorous Grace Moore brought her Fiora to the MET.† Fiora was
sung by the marvelous but too-little-remembered Dorothy Kirsten in the 1948 –
49 season, and thereafter L’amore dei tre re disappeared from the
MET stage.† Sixty-four years later, the opera still awaits its sixty-seventh
performance at the MET.

One of the underappreciated gems of contemporary European music is
Warsaw’s Ludwig van Beethoven Easter Festival, an ambitious project that has
granted welcome focus to underappreciated operas.† A particular highlight of
previous Festivals was a concert performance—also recorded and commercially
released by Polish Radio—of Donizetti’s rarely-heard Maria Padilla
with Nelly Miricioiu, and the centerpiece of the 2012 Festival was
Montemezzi’s L’amore dei tre re.† Musically, the quality of
Montemezzi’s score offers unique rewards to dedicated performers, its
combination of elements of Italian verismo with Wagnerian influences
creating an unique sound that is duplicated in the music of no other
composer.† Precisely why popularity has eluded L’amore dei tre re
since the middle of the 20th Century is an enigma.† The opera has virtually
every quality that endears a score to audiences: brevity, passion, betrayal,
violence, and music that challenges all of the principal singers.† What the
opera might be said to lack is true melodic distinction, but the repertories of
many of the world’s important opera companies include frequently-performed
works without a single melody—or any of originality or true quality—to be
heard.† L’amore dei tre re, regarded a century ago as one of the
finest operas of its generation, deserves reassessment, and a more compelling
argument in its favor than this performance by Maestro ?ukasz Borowicz and a
distinguished cast can hardly be imagined.

Since the erosion of Communism throughout Eastern Europe, the musical world
has been greatly enriched by the emergence of excellent artists and
institutions whose work was largely hidden from the West by the Iron Curtain.†
The history of the Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra began before World War II,
but the devastation suffered by Poland during the War and five subsequent
decades of Communist rule sadly limited the Orchestra’s reach beyond
Poland’s borders.† The fall of Communism in Poland in 1989 opened the way
for Polish artists to share their cultural wealth with the wider world, and the
launching of the Ludwig van Beethoven Easter Festival in 1997 brought together
many of Poland’s finest artists for a musical celebration of the resilience
and artistic survival of the Polish people.† The Polish Radio Symphony
Orchestra has been central to the success of the Ludwig van Beethoven Eastern
Festival, and the Orchestra’s playing in this performance of L’amore
dei tre re
confirms the extraordinary quality of the ensemble.†
Montemezzi’s score presents many challenges to all sections of the orchestra,
and the brass players offer performances that rival the best playing of their
colleagues in Berlin and Vienna.† String tone is consistently robust and
beautifully-sustained, the players’ intonation never faltering.† The singers
of the Warsaw Philharmonic Choir, prepared by Henryk Wojnarowski, perform with
laudable fervor, their singing contributing effectively to the mystery and
menace of the opera’s final Act.† The efforts of both Choir and Orchestra
are aided immeasurably by the assured, idiomatic conducting of ?ukasz
Borowicz, principal conductor of the Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra since
2007.† Maestro Borowicz has vast experience in conducting opera, but his work
in this performance surpasses the efforts of many of the most famous conductors
active today.† It seems that Italian opera, encompassing styles as divergent
as bel canto and verismo, is in his blood.† In terms of
pacing the performance and highlighting phrasing in dramatically-crucial
passages, Maestro Borowicz’s approach resembles that of the opera’s
composer as preserved in the 1941 MET radio broadcast.† In a score in which
many conductors would be lured into frenetic pursuit of melodrama, Maestro
Borowicz allows climaxes to occur naturally, as the composer intended.† The
inventiveness and marvelous spookiness of the score are manifested without
being unduly emphasized, and the soloists receive the support needed to deliver
their parts with maximum musical integrity and emotional impact.† Worries
about the survival of opera in general would be far fewer if more performances
benefited from the immediacy and commitment brought to this performance by
Maestro Borowicz and the choristers and orchestral players over whom he

Secondary characters in L’amore dei tre re are given limited
opportunities to make impressions, but each of the singers engaged for this
performance makes the most of every bar of his or her part.† In the rÙles of
a handmaiden, a young girl, and an old woman, sopranos Joanna Gontarz and
Magdalena Dobrowolska and mezzo-soprano Anna Fija?kowska offer voices of
greater quality than their parts require, each lady singing excellently.† Also
impressive is treble Tomasz Warmijak in the few lines of a youth.

Spanish tenor Jorge Prego sings Flaminio with vocal freshness and genuine
emotional involvement.† His voice has a lovely timbre, and only a pair of his
highest notes are slightly troublesome.† It is to Flaminio that the unenviable
task of attempting to preserve semblances of honor and order falls, and the
anguish with which Mr. Prego sings as he guides the blinded
Archibaldo—knowing well that the old king eerily perceives what he cannot
see—is touching.† Mr. Prego delivers the texts that he sings with the
insightfulness of an accomplished Lieder singer, and a sense of Flaminio’s
symbolic service as Archibaldo’s eyes is aptly conveyed by Mr. Prego’s

Avito, to whom the beautiful Fiora was betrothed before the kingdom of
Altura was conquered by Archibaldo, is sung by Spanish-American tenor Eric
Barry, an engaging young singer who has been acclaimed in rÙles as varied as
Arbace in Rossini’s Ciro in Babilonia and Rodolfo in Puccini’s
La bohËme.† Lyricism never persists for more than a few bars in the
tense world of L’amore dei tre re, but Mr. Barry’s fluid lyric
tenor fills his musical lines expressively.† The voice is perhaps somewhat
small for a rÙle sung at the MET by Enrico Caruso and Giovanni Martinelli and
recorded by Pl·cido Domingo, but the appeal of Mr. Barry’s voice in
Avito’s music is undeniable.† Ascents into the upper register are not always
completely comfortable, with occasional pinching of the tone intruding into the
singer’s otherwise unimpeachable command of line, but he avoids forcing the
voice even in moments of greatest passion.† Lyric tenors with voices of
quality who do not squander their gifts in pursuit of major careers are rare:
this performance increases the hope that Mr. Barry will achieve the prominence
that his talent deserves without being tempted to damage the voice.

American baritone David Pershall discloses a vibrant, ringing voice in his
performance as Manfredo, Archibaldo’s son and Fiora’s husband.†
Considering that, for all of its composer’s musical inventiveness,
L’amore dei tre re is an Italian opera and that Fiora’s hand was
formerly promised to Avito, it likely does not need to be stated that
Manfredo’s deep love for his wife is unrequited.† Perhaps the most
dramatically significant element of the opera’s plot is Manfredo’s
near-success in inspiring his wife to an act of affection towards him: touched
by his sincerity and obvious devotion, she agrees to wave goodbye to him as he
departs for battle but is ultimately intercepted and convinced to abandon her
goodwill mission by Avito.† Concerned by Fiora’s failure to appear upon the
parapet, Manfredo returns to the castle to find that in the interim his father
has discovered his wife with her lover and strangled her.† Dutiful husbands
rarely receive the most glorious music in an opera, but Montemezzi gave
Manfredo impassioned, pained music that demands both nobility and raw
emotion.† The rÙle receives from Mr. Pershall a performance of tremendous
strength.† Mr. Pershall’s voice is a beautiful, well-knit instrument that
sounds particularly impressive in moments of repose.† The subtlety of Mr.
Pershall’s performance suggests that suspicion does not come naturally to
Manfredo, making the character’s plight all the more wrenching.† Mr.
Pershall’s diction is very good, with vowels attractively on the breath, and
the allure of his tone in Manfredo’s exchanges with Fiora make the character
far more than a dullard from whom any wife might seek refuge.† The manly high
spirits with which he greets his father and the tenderness with which he
returns to his wife’s side, failing to notice the coldness of her welcome
that is so obvious to his blind father, are eloquently conveyed by Mr.
Pershall’s singing.† His most impressive singing, both musically and
dramatically, is accomplished in the scene in which, having confronted his dead
wife’s lover, he purposefully kisses Fiora’s poisoned lips in order to join
her in death.† Not unlike Mr. Barry, Mr. Pershall may not possess the sheer
weight of tone brought to Manfredo’s music by his illustrious predecessors in
the part, who include Carlo Galeffi, Pasquale Amato, and Lawrence Tibbett: on
his own terms, however, he is a thrilling Manfredo who inspires great

Like many operatic heroines, Fiora is a complex woman, neither wholly
condemnable nor free from blame for her actions.† The biting cruelty of her
exchanges with Archibaldo portray her as a calculating vamp determined to enjoy
her assignations with her lover at any cost, but the reluctant grace with which
she agrees to grant her husband’s simple wish of waving goodbye as he returns
to battle at least suggests that a certain softness resides in her heart.†
Musically and dramatically, Fiora is a distant relative of both Debussy’s
MÈlisande and Puccini’s Tosca.† Ambiguity is her only consistent trait, and
Montemezzi painted her musical portrait in muted tones occasionally splashed
with explosions of color.† American soprano Sara Jakubiak, successful in an
uncommonly eclectic repertory ranging from Mozart to Philip Glass, throws
herself into Fiora’s music with abandon and gives a performance of
spine-tingling power.† Montemezzi hinted that Archibaldo’s loathing of Fiora
and tireless pursuit of proof of her infidelity were derived from the old
king’s latent lust for his daughter-in-law.† Indeed, modern psychologists
might suggest that Archibaldo’s very physical act of strangling Fiora is a
manifestation of sexual sadism, his sole opportunity at possessing her body.†
The disgust in Ms. Jakubiak’s voice in Fiora’s exchanges with Archibaldo
suggests that she is all too aware of the intentions that lurk in the recesses
of the blind king’s mind.† The deadened tone with which she sings in
response to Manfredo depicts boredom and exasperation more than genuine
hatred.† When in Avito’s company, however, Ms. Jakubiak’s tone expands
gloriously, her blossoming femininity and eroticism bringing to mind Nedda’s
meeting with Silvio in Pagliacci.† Ms. Jakubiak makes of Fiora’s
defiance of Archibaldo as he closes in on her a scorching catharsis, her voice
slashing through the orchestra.† When she sings that her lover’s name is
‘dolce morte’ (‘sweet death’), Ms. Jakubiak seems already in transition
to another plane of existence.† The soprano’s wide-ranging musical
experience notwithstanding, Fiora is a rÙle that might have been composed
specially for Ms. Jakubiak: she possesses the vocal opulence of Lucrezia Bori,
the glamor of Grace Moore, and the earthy appeal of Dorothy Kirsten.† The
genius of Montemezzi is revealed by the way in which he shaped a formidable
operatic femme fatale with declamatory music that offers few
opportunities for the sort of unfettered vocal display that makes so many
Italian soprano rÙles memorable.† The histrionic prowess of Ms. Jakubiak is
confirmed by the fact that her Fiora is a portrayal that is not likely to be

Archibaldo is a magnificently complicated amalgamation of several of
opera’s flintiest bass rÙles.† With Wagner’s Alberich, he shares
unfulfilled carnal desires.† From Verdi’s Jacopo Fiesco, he takes a
revisionist approach to his own history.† From Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov,
he receives the burden of being a troubled monarch whose past is almost
certainly reflected in his present.† From Debussy’s Arkel, he inherits the
curse of seeing more in blindness than in sight.† Musically, he is a sort of
Wagnerian in translation, complete with his own Leitmotif, and like
Wotan he is the master of a social order that is crumbling around him.† Into
this microcosm of moral duality, Russian bass Nikolay Didenko enters with a
dark, firm voice that moves through Montemezzi’s music with consummate
ease.† A few of his lowest notes lack absolute authority, but Mr. Didenko
produces stunning top notes.† The paternal warmth with which Mr. Didenko’s
Archibaldo awaits his son’s return from battle is quite moving and superbly
contrasted with the chilling nastiness with which he addresses Fiora.†
Responding to Ms. Jakubiak, Mr. Didenko audibly portrays a man whose motives
for violence are as much inspired by thwarted desires as by righteous
indignation.† There is also an element of calmness in Mr. Didenko’s singing
in scenes with Ms. Jakubiak that suggests that Archibaldo is aware of having
found in Fiora a worthy adversary.† The basic timbre of Mr. Didenko’s voice
is tinged with the black rotundity that is his legitimate heritage as a Russian
bass, but his delivery of text is untroubled by any heaviness of approach.† He
is, in fact, a more effective villain for displaying very welcome verbal and
tonal dexterity.† He is occasionally inclined to shout at climaxes, but his
understanding of his rÙle is never in doubt.† If Mr. Didenko lacks the vocal
charisma of an Ezio Pinza or Cesare Siepi, he carefully avoids making
Archibaldo a base thug.† He portrays Archibaldo as a man whose own neurotic
system of morality justifies his actions.† After so much rage and snarling
violence, there is in Mr. Didenko’s singing in the final scene a true sense
of heartbreak and regret: through the efforts of the singer, the character
ultimately evokes empathy for his self-imposed tragedy.

This sensationally enjoyable recording of L’amore dei tre re
offers the attentive listener several important lessons about both the art and
the business of opera in the 21st Century.† There are in so many cities
throughout the world, and especially in Eastern Europe, under-explored troves
of outstanding musical talent.† In that vein, prohibitively expensive
assemblages of ‘star’ singers are not necessary to reveal the finest
qualities of a musical score.† There are in the cast of this deliciously
persuasive performance of L’amore dei tre re no household names, but
there are many moments in the ninety-four minutes of this recording that dazzle
with star quality.† Good musicians have the ability to make even bad music
sound appealing, but no apologies need to be made for the quality of
Montemezzi’s music.† This recording is a demonstrable boon to those who
treasure the opera despite its unmerited absence from the world’s stages, and
little doubt can remain after hearing this performance that a fresh outing of
L’amore dei tre re is inarguably preferable to another poorly-sung

Joseph Newsome

Italo Montemezzi (1875 – 1952): L’amore dei tre re—N.
Didenko (Archibaldo), S. Jakubiak (Fiora), E. Barry (Avito), D. Pershall
(Manfredo), J. Prego (Flaminio), J. Gontarz (Handmaiden), M. Dobrowolska (Young
Woman), A. Fija?kowska (Old Woman), T. Warmijak (Youth), P. Ronek (Offstage
Voice); ChÛr Filharmonii Narodowej; Polska Orkiestra Radiowa; ?ukasz Borowicz
[Recorded ‘live’ during a concert performance in the Warsaw Philharmonic
Concert Hall on 2 April 2013; Polskie Radio PRCD 1562-1563; 2CD,

This review first appeared at Voix
des Arts
. It is reprinted with the permission of the

image_description=Polskie Radio PRCD 1562-3
product_title=Italo Montemezzi: L’amore dei tre re
product_by=A review by Joseph Newsome
product_id=Polskie Radio PRCD 1562-3 [2CDs]
price=Polish z?oty 85.00