is a common misconception about Verdi that the operas he composed
during the 1840s – the so-called ‘years in the galleys’ – are
formula-ridden and inferior to the best of his work. True, he
did go on to write masterworks that are more subtle, more powerful
and more penetrating; But if proof were needed of the quality
he achieved during this phase of his career, I Due Foscari provides
it in abundance.
source was a story of the same name by Lord Byron, and he collaborated
with Francesco Maria Piave to complete his opera for the Teatro
Argentina in Rome, where the premiere took place in September
1844. Its success was enough to secure productions in other
cities besides: for example, in Venice. Bologna and Naples,
while the opera also made its way to Paris and London.
I Due Foscari remains on the fringes of the repertory, rather
than at the centre. The reasons are twofold. First, familiarity
breeds familiarity with audiences everywhere and, two, this
remains a particularly dark piece. Both the hapless Doge Francesco
Foscari and his son Jacopo die of what we might describe as
broken hearts. Wrongly accused, Jacopo languishes in prison,
and though his wife Lucrezia tries to save him, the forces of
the Council of Ten, led by the villain Loredano, compel the
Doge to maintain the rule of law and exile his own son to Crete.
Alas, he dies as he embarks upon the ship, while the Doge himself
is then compelled to abdicate, and dies during the final scene.
A typically dark Verdian story line, then.
is live performance from Milan with a good cast, and conducting
of magnificent shaping and pacing by Gianandrea Gavazzeni. The
production, directed by Pier Luigi Pizzi, is sensitive to the
nuances and general tenor of the story, and the film direction
by Tonino Del Colle is also supportive, if a little static in
terms of camera angles.
sound is strongly articulated and quite atmospheric, though
occasionally there seem to be some moments of odd balancing
between voices and orchestra, particularly in solo numbers,
when the voices can be ‘larger than life’. Gavazzeni chooses
slower rather than faster tempi – certainly Lamberto Gardelli
on his excellent CD recording on Philips has more vitality –
but the interpretation always feels right and the judgements
are appropriate. The orchestra plays well too, though there
might have been a greater impact from tuttis.
the singers Renato Bruson heads the list in every way. He is
an experienced Verdian and it shows. He is very much inside
the part and his vocal shading and sensitive phrasing make the
tragic Doge the central feature in the drama. As his son Jacopo,
Alberto Cupido is always secure, but his tone does not include
the ringing heroic quality achieved by Jose Carreras, who is
at the top of his form and his career on the Philips recording.
The other important character is Lucrezia, and Linda Roark-Strummer
is very much inside the role from the vocal point of view. Perhaps
her big scene in Act I might have generated more intensity,
but she never sounds under strain.
La Scala chorus sings with assurance and achieve some beautifully
controlled dynamic shadings, while the production is cleverly
lit and makes intelligent use of the stage. As so often with
DVD issues, the accompanying documentation leaves something
to be desired. The booklet does include a complete text, but
in Italian only, while the list of scenes is not numbered according
to cue points, so it is difficult for the enquiring listener-viewer
to find his way around. A small point, but it could so easily
have been avoided. In most respects, however, this performance
will give much pleasure, if that is the right word for so remorselessly
tragic a work.