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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
I Due Foscari

Francesco Foscari, ageing Doge of Venice – Plácido Domingo (baritone)
Jacapo Foscari, his son – Francesco Meli (tenor)
Lucrezia Contarini, Jacapo’s wife – Anna Pirozzi (soprano)
Jacopo Loredano, an enemy of the Foscari – Andrea Concetti (bass)
Barbarigo, friend of Lorendano – Edoardo Milletti (tenor)
Pisana – Chiara Isotton (soprano)
Doge's Servant – Modestas Sedievičius (bass)
Chorus & Orchestra of the La Scala, Milan/Michele Mariotti
Stage Director and Set Designer – Frédéric Olivieri
Costume Designer – Kristine Jurjäne
Video Director – Tiziano Mancini
rec. La Scala, Milan, March 2016
Video format HD. Aspect 16:9. Sound Format, dts-HD Master. PCM stereo, DTS 5.1
Subtitles, Italian (original language), English, German, French, Spanish, Korean and Japanese
Booklet essay in English, German and French
C MAJOR DVD 742008 [138 mins]

I due Foscari was Verdi’s sixth opera. The composer had considered an opera based on Venice for his fifth work, scheduled for his debut at the Teatro La Fenice, premiere opera house in that city, in the Winter Season of 1844. However, Venice fostered its reputation as a Festival City, carefully concealing its darker side. Consequently, Verdi was warned off and instead set Ernani. For his Rome debut later that year, and after the censors had considered his first choice of subject as being subversive, his thoughts returned to an opera based on Venice and in particular on Lord Byron's play The Two Foscari. However, with his innate feel for the theatre he recognised that the play lacked the theatrical grandeur needed for an opera, and present in his previous compositions, except for the buffa Un Giorno di regio, and he instructed his librettist, Piave, to find content to add some grandeur.

Set in Venice around 1457, the story concerns the aged Doge, Francesco Foscari, who has made enemies in the all-powerful Council of Ten. His son Jacapo, has been charged and tortured on false accusation and sent to exile away from his wife and children. His wife pleads with his father, as Doge, to exercise clemency and allow his son to return to Venice. Francesco cannot usurp his judicial duty and his son is sentenced to further exile. As Loredano, an implacable enemy of the Foscari gloats, Francesco, as father, meets his son in prison. Jacopo is summoned to be told he is to be exiled again, with his wife and children forbidden to accompany him.

In the final act, proceeded by a regatta and Venetian Festival, Jacopo is led to a boat for exile. Back in the Doge’s Palace his father reflects that the last of his three sons has been taken from him. A letter revealing Jacopo’s innocence arrives too late as the young man has died of grief. Bereft, Francesco then faces the ultimate insult of his being forced to abdicate his position as Doge having previously being persuaded, by The Council of Ten to swear he would stay in office until his death. Lucrezia returns to find him stripped of his Ducal crown and robes. As plain Francesco Foscari he dies of grief.

As in the Covent Garden production of the work (see review) directed by Thaddeus Strassberger in sets by Kevin Knight and costumed by Mattie Ullrich this is a traditional production, no producer concept or Regietheater intrusions. The sets are simple, comprising supposedly period statues of winged lions and often using reproductions of famous paintings of Venice to frame the action. The costumes are in period. With these positive starts I sat back and wondered how the wonder of our former tenor star would be in the baritone title role. I had been highly critical of his efforts in the Covent Garden production of the opera referred to, since when he had followed that shared production elsewhere before this new production at La Scala. It was immediately obvious in the Doge’s opening aria and cabaletta (CHs. 9-10) that Domingo’s excursions in the role had worked his voice more into it than at Covent Garden, both in respect of its baritonal strength and tonal hue. As always with the Domingo his acted portrayal was fully committed and appropriate throughout. Prior to Foscari senior’s act one aria I had ben concerned in opposite direction in respect of the singing of Francesco Meli as his son. Where I wondered had the honey gone from his tenor tone. Far too often he was forcing his voice and that lighter aspect was too rarely present on this occasion (CHs. 4-5). As Foscari’s daughter in law sung by Anna Pirozzi her singing in the act one duet with her father in law immediately impressed me. Famous for his father daughter duets Verdi spins a lovely line on these occasions and this is no exception with Anna Pirozzi matching Domingo in every nuance of the music and its message (CHs. 12-13). Importantly she maintains this vocal standard throughout, not least in the act two trio involving Doge, his son and his wife (CH. 20) and with Meli showing he has not lost all of that honeyed tone (CH.21).

Elsewhere in the production the singing is never less than adequate with distinguished singing from the chorus (CH. 24) and a well staged ballet sequence for the carnival scene of act three (CH. 27). The concluding scene, as the Doge is forced to relinquish his position comes over very well. Overall the conducting of Michele Mariotti serves Verdi’s melodic and dramatic music a full and idiomatic measure to leave an overall feeling of satisfaction, much as Pappano’s did at Covent Garden.

In this rarely staged work the catalogue now has the luxury of three modern stagings: the two referred to and that filmed at Parma in 2009 and featured in the C Major Tuto Verdi series with Leo Nucci in the title role, an aging but a true baritone (see review).

Robert J Farr



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