The showpiece of the Alberta Scene Festival, composer John Estacio and librettist John Murrell’s “Filumena” is grand and melodic in classic opera tradition. It treads where many modern works that rely on experimentation, discordance and minimization fear to go.
“Filumena” embraces the history of the style in a larger-than-life vision that puts it squarely in the musical and dramatic league of the genre’s classics.
The opera is based on the story of Filumena Costanzo Lassandro — the only woman sentenced to death and hanged in the province of Alberta — who was partly responsible for the shooting death of a police constable. It begins with the celebration of her arranged marriage at 15 to an older man, in the tradition of her Italian immigrant parents. It ends with her last moments in her prison cell eight years later in 1923. Through her husband, Charlie Lassandro, she meets local crime boss/Robin Hood figure Emilio Picariello and his son, Stefan, and is drawn into rum-running in the prohibition era.
While librettist Murrell admits to having made slight adjustments to Filumena’s story — for instance, she is given a lover in the opera, Stefano, a relationship suspected but unconfirmed by historical fact — the tragedy of her life is the stuff of grand opera.
Sung in English and Italian, with surtitles in English and French, “Filumena” is highly accessible dramatically. Simply put, it is a strong story populated with colorful characters.
Composer Estacio’s expansive and melodic music builds impressively from the upbeat opening through a multilayered, complex but still accessible score to the final moments of Filumena’s short life.
Effectively sung by a well-chosen group of principals and an exceptionally strong chorus, the opera’s standout is Gaetan Laperriere as Picariello. His rich voice and strong stage presence are ideally suited to the characterization of this colorful man, the acknowledged leader of the Italian community in the Crow’s Nest Pass region during the period.
Under Bramwell Tovey’s baton, Kelly Robinson’s sure direction, blended with Sue LePage’s design, “Filumena” makes a lasting impression of grandeur and richness.
There are some 80 made-in-Canada operas in existence. “Filumena” is likely to be the one best remembered and performed most often worldwide.