In 1981 Stephen Sondheim saw Ettore Scola’s film, “Passione d’Amore,” and was so struck by it that he wanted to create a musical based on the character Fosca, who is a woman with a terminal illness and a passion for passion. Fosca (Judy Kuhn) lives with her cousin, Colonel Ricci (Stephen Bogardus) because she has no family. She is surrounded with military men who have no interest in her nor her in them. Life is deserting her, and she would gladly bring death on herself if it were the fashion of the time.
Into this sad corner of the world comes a young officer Giorgio (Ryan Silverman) who is fresh from the bed of his married mistress Clara (Melissa Errico). He brings an air of sensitivity and load of books that he is willing to lend to the ailing Clara. When she returns the books they meet, and the little spark of life that Clara was watching sputter turns into a raging flame.
Clara is lost in love, and she knows no shame. Because her time is short she has nothing to lose and places herself directly in Giogio’s path. Although he is initially repulsed by this near corpse, he eventually is taken in by her complete devotion. “No one will love you as I do,” she tells him. “I would die for you.” When this pure love is held up to the light and compared to the passion he shares with his mistress, Fosca is clearly the victor. But it is a sad victory.
This is an oddly enchanting story with a compelling score. And I really wanted to go nutty over this production, but I never did. The voices are splendid, and everyone executes their moves with precision. But for me there was something missing, some kind of electricity between the characters – okay, I’ll say it – some kind of passion. This is a life and death situation. The stakes could not be higher, and yet the layers and the depth of Giorgio’s fall into love were not apparent except in the final scenes of the production.
In addition the direction is clumsy to the point of being an obstacle. When Giorgio is directed to a desk to write a letter he has to sit on the floor with a letter writing box. When he visits Fosca in her room, he is supposed to sit on the side of the bed, but there isn’t one so instead he sits on a straight-backed chair next to her. This appears to be minimalism for the sake of minimalism.
All in all it is an evening that tries, but, with the exception of the exquisite five part harmonies of the soldiers that are breathtaking, it never quite delivers.
"'Passion,' you see, thrives in close quarters. "
Ben Brantley for New York Times
"Impressive enough to inspire love at first sight."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News
"Lacks a key ingredient — passion."
Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post
"Dry, overintellectualized, and slackly paced, this is a “Passion” pretty much devoid of it."
Erik Haagensen for Back Stage
"A blissful theater experience. It's one of the highlights of the season."
Robert Feldberg for The Record
"The pacing is sluggish and passion largely absent"
Roma Torre for NY1
"Memorable interpretation of a challenging musical drama."
Michael Sommers for Newsroom Jersey
"The thesps aren’t required to play musical instruments in John Doyle’s sleek production, but given their demanding character roles, it’s imperative that they should act as well as sing. So give thanks the wonderful Judy Kuhn is on board."
Marilyn Stasio for Variety
External links to full reviews from popular press...