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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901) 
I Due Foscari 
- tragic opera in three acts (1844)
Francesco Foscari, ageing Doge of Venice - Vladimir Stoyanov (baritone); Jacopo Foscari, his son - Stefan Pop (tenor); Lucrezia Contarini, Jacopo’s wife - Maria Katzarava (soprano); Jacopo Loredano, an enemy of the Foscari - Giacomo Prestia (bass); Barbarigo, friend of Loredano - Francesco Marsiglia (tenor); Pisana – Erica Wenmeng Gu (soprano); Fante - Lee Hickenbottom (soprano); Doge's Servant – Gianni De Angelis (bass)
Chorus and Orchestra. Filarmonica Arturo Toscanini Parma and Orchestra Giovanile, Cond. Paolo Arrivabeni
Director, Leo Muscado
Set Designer, Andrea Belli
Lighting Designer, Alessandro Verazzi
Video Directors, Matteo Ricchetti, Adriano Figari
rec. live, 11 October 2019, Teatro Regio Di Parma, Italy
Video format: 1080p HD. Aspect 16:9.
Sound Format: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1.
Subtitles: Italian (original language), English, German, French, Korean, Japanese
Booklet essay in Italian and English
DYNAMIC Blu-ray 57865 [120 mins]

I due Foscari was Verdi's sixth and shortest opera. The composer had considered an opera based on Venice for his fifth work, scheduled for his debut at the town’s Teatro La Fenice in the winter season of 1844. However, Venice fostered its reputation as a festival city and was determined to conceal 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 subversive, his thoughts returned to an opera set in Venice and in particular on Lord Byron's play The Two Foscari. With his innate feel for the stage he recognised that the play lacked the necessary theatrical element and instructed his librettist, Piave, to find content to add some grandeur.

Set in Venice around 1457, the story of I due Foscari concerns the aged Doge, Francesco Foscari, who has made enemies in the all-powerful Council of Ten. His son Jacopo, 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 and is told he is to be exiled again, with his wife and children forbidden to accompany him. In the final act, preceded by a regatta and 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 being forced to abdicate his position and Lucrezia returns to find him stripped of his crown and robes. He, too, dies of grief.

First presented in Rome’s Teatro Argentina on 3rd of November 1844, the staging failed to meet Verdi’s expectations. However, the work was quickly taken up elsewhere including in centres such as Vienna, Barcelona and Paris before reaching St Petersburg in 1847 along with London, Boston and New York the same year. It nowadays reaches the likes of London’s Covent Garden without comment. It is characterised by its conciseness, being, as I note above, the briefest of all Verdi’s operatic works.
The production, directed by Leo Muscato, features sets by Andrea Belli, who stages the action on a round platform which can be adapted to show the council room, the Doge’s apartment, the prison in which his son Jacopo waits for the verdict of the council to be enforced.  A few details are added to hint at the different settings: portraits of the past governors of Venice, chains dropping from above to build a secluded space and, in the end, an opening at the back, and a steep aisle that leads Jacopo into exile.

The costumes in this production are more in tune with the period of Tennyson than the original source of the story. The staging, on a circular platform, is largely modern, changes for the various scenes and is associated with varied back lighting effects. The setting lacks the representation of water at any part of the proceedings – strange, for a specified venue where boats and canals dominate and are highlighted in the score, as when Jacopo is sent on his final journey (CHs 27-29)!

Piave, in this early collaboration with Verdi, failed to provide the kind of choral scenes needed to stir the imagination or provide the grandeur that drew musical inspiration from the composer in his earlier operas, and Verdi had to interpolate some of his own literary work into the final score. Where it does accentuate drama is in the confrontations and meetings between the Doge and his daughter-in-law, such as conclude Act One (CHs. 12-14). Such father-daughter duets are a characteristic and often the vocal highlights of several Verdi operas; his facility in making the most of them is a hallmark of his compositional genius. Similarly, duets between father and son, also present here, are the focus of Verdi’s creative genius. Whether this drawing out from Verdi is a subliminal consequence of the premature loss of his own children is a justifiable discussion. What is ideal, is the size of the theatre, seating around fifteen hundred; no singer has to overstretch their vocal resources and the representational aspects of the set are less noticeable than they might otherwise be.

The theatre itself has become the annual focus of a Verdi Festival each autumn. The location is wholly appropriate, as Parma is the largest town in the Duchy and near to where Verdi was born and made his first musical steps. This performance was recorded at the 2019 Festival Verdi in a new co-production for Teatro Regio di Parma and Teatro Comunale di Bologna. As indicated, the set is simplistic, on an easily adapted round platform and aided by lighting and projections, but, as already stated above, nowhere is water featured; rather strange for an opera set in Venice and even as the Doge’s son is sent into exile (CHs. 27-29).

The singing is variable, with baritone Vladimir Stoyanov bringing more vocal and histrionic class than his associates, his portrayal dominating the proceedings. As his son, Stefan Pop has a pleasing squillo to his tenor and acts well, as does Giacomo Prestia as Loredano, the devious opponent of the ruling Doge and his son. I cannot be as complimentary about the singing of Lucrezia Contarini as the wife of the Doge’s son and mother of his children; she goes sharp and is less than vocally mellifluous or convincing in her acting, while her large size inhibits meaningful histrionic involvement. The minor parts are adequately taken and the conducting of Paolo Arrivabeni is in good Verdian style.

Robert J Farr

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