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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
I Due Foscari
Francesco Foscari ... Renato Bruson (baritone)
Jacopo Foscari ... Alberto Cupido (tenor)
Lucrezia Contarini ... Linda Roark-Strummer (soprano)
Jacopo Loredano ... Luigi Roni (bass)
Barbarigo ... Renato Cazzaniga (tenor)
Pisana ... Monica Tagliasacchi (soprano)
Fante ... Aldo Bottion (tenor)
Servant of the Doge ... Aldo Bramante (bass)
Orchestra and Chorus of Teatro alla Scala, Milano/Gianandrea Gavazzeni
Recorded 1988, Teatro alla Scala (live performance)
OPUS ARTE OA LS 3007 D [114.48]

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It 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.

Verdi’s 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.

Yet 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.

This 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.

The 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.

Of 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.

The 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.

Terry Barfoot


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