Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797 – 1848)
Marino Faliero – Azione tragica in three acts (1835 edition) (1834 – 1835)
Marino Faliero (Doge of Venice) – Giorgio Surian (bass)
Elena (Dogaressa) – Rachele Stanisci (soprano)
Fernando (the Doge’s nephew) – Ivan Magri (tenor)
Israele Bertucci (Captain of the Venetian Arsenal) – Luca Grassi (baritone)
Steno (a young patrician, member of the Council of Forty) – Luca Dall’Amico (bass)
Leoni (member of the Council of Ten) – Leonardo Gramegna (tenor)
With Domenico Menini, Paola Spissu, Aleksandar Stefanovski, Giuseppe Di Paola, Enrico Marchesini, Livio Scarpellini, Elvis Fanton and Moya Gonzalo Ezequiel
Orchestra and Chorus of the Bergamo Musica Festival Gaetano Donizetti/Bruno Cinquegrani
Filmed at the Teatro Donizetti, Bergamo, Italy, 31 October and 2 November 2008
Director: Marco Spada
Set and Costumes: Alessandro Ciammarughi
Lighting Designer: Giovanni Pirandello
NTSC: No region coding
Aspect ratio: 16:9
DVD5 (disc 1) and DVD9 (disc 2)
PCM 2.0 ; Dolby Surround 5.0; DTS5.0
Leaflet in English
Subtitles: Italian and English
NAXOS 2.110616-17 [73:27 + 78.47]

With more than a whiff of historical truth and of a composer writing his fiftieth opera, you would expect this opera to flow with taut drama and vocal high points. In which case you are going to be somewhat disappointed.

This was Donizetti’s first opera for the Théâtre Italien in Paris and he had to be mindful of the somewhat different requirements of the French audience. Inter alia, out should go the repeated crescendos and in should come a featured ballet. That would not stop the opera sweeping along to its own dramatic crescendo. Sadly the drama in this opera is not strong. The plot is modestly constructed and the libretto not much better written. However, the music, whilst more than usually dark, also has its lighter, highly melodic sections. Verdi, that scourge of librettists, would have taken much of the libretto apart, but Donizetti was under pressure. His previous opera first appeared in Milan at Christmas 1834 and this one opened in Paris on 12 March 1835. Emanuele Bidera’s libretto was refined in that brief gap by Agostino Rufini. It was Bidera’s second opera. His first, also for Donizetti, Gemma di Vergy has almost disappeared from view.

Thus the auguries are not good. Add to that first, a director whose credits in the accompanying leaflet do not refer to any previous productions save for ‘supervising’ them; and second, a filming at the Teatro Donizetti in Bergamo (of Donizetti birth and death fame) where all that relates to Donizetti is wonderful (judging by the uncritical audience reaction) and things do not look any better.

It starts well with an atmospheric opening in the arsenal/dockyard of Venice with a crisp chorus of workers/plebeians setting off and continuing throughout the production as a vocally well balanced, musically solid team that can rabble-rouse, as in the opening, and empathize with later tragic moments unfolding before them.

Their leader, Israele Bertucci, sung by the reliable Luca Grassi, is all too ready to lead an anti-patrician rebellion: cue for an aria of past glories with his smooth tone and legato. His is not the most powerful voice but that is more than compensated for by clear diction and strong acting skills as demonstrated so clearly in the last Act.

It is Grassi who persuades the Doge of the title, sung by Giorgio Surian, to lead the uprising. The problem with the role, or perhaps the direction given, is that for most of the time, Surian is at forte. Whilst the years have been kind with a tone that remains strong, his voice is not as steady as formerly when put under pressure. The duet with Grassi in the first scene exemplifies this with perhaps not the vocal reserves of yesteryear. Unfortunate, because in the last scene with his wife, where dynamics appear with frequent piano, the sound is steady, rounded without edges and deeply coloured.

The Doge’s transgressing wife, who has rejected the advances of Steno (Luca Dall’Amico) but encouraged those of the husband’s nephew Fernando (Ivan Magri), is sung by Rachele Stanisci. Much of her music is written high on the stave, or above it, and Stanisci does not have the biggest voice, but compensates by effort. The downside is a harsh tone, a recurring wobble and the occasional shrill sound. A great pity, and really unnecessary as evidenced by two scenes. In the third Act aria Dio clemente, ah, me perdona (tr. 13), when contemplating her future with no husband or lover she produces a firm pure tone and a gentle steady sound. Again in the last scene, with gentle piano and warm tone, Stanisci and Surian make their affecting farewells.

Dall’Amico’s character Steno is the plot catalyst. First he incenses the dockyard workers and Bertucci by his complaints about his uncompleted boat; then her pursues the Dogessa and is given a month’s imprisonment for his trouble - the light sentence from Leoni and the ruling Council incensing the Doge. Finally he attends, without invitation, Leoni’s ball where he provokes Fernando to fight a duel later (off-stage). An unremittingly unpleasant character. Again most delivered at forte with little opportunity for characterisation or vocal variation save the snarling argument with Fernando during the ball.

Fernando is the doomed tenor hero: doomed to die by Steno’s sword. Ivan Magri has the clear ringing tone of high tenor popularity. Not in the league of Juan Diego Florez. Nevertheless with physique de role, mid-note hitting, above stave agility and a vibrato of emotion, he proved understandably popular with the audience.

Leoni, sung by Leonardo Gramegna, should be the steady hand on the tiller and so he is. No lightness of sound or movement even when giving instructions for the ball. Hardly any excitement when arresting the Doge. Just a measured steady-toned, evenly delivered sound throughout making for an undeveloped character.

Of the smaller parts, Paola Spissu, as the Dogessa’s maid servant, sings her few lines with commendable clarity and simplicity.

The orchestra produces a deep round sound with strong dynamics in the opening sinfonia. Generally they were well paced but from time to time slow for the soloists. Audience applause being allowed full rein at the end of an aria, there were occasional clunks when the orchestra remained silent and so did the audience. It would have been better to sweep the music along leaving the audience to sit on their hands until the end of each Act or Scene. But when the singer remains centre-stage after an ‘exit’ aria and does not depart until the applause has run its course, the conductor can do nothing – whereas the Director certainly should have.

Dancing at the ball can just be discerned, if a few ladies stepping back and forth slowly can be so called. Variable lighting and drop down gauze screens for separate rooms at the ball do not match the splendour of the costumes. The accompanying leaflet gives a detailed list of tracks and a full synopsis. It also has a long, interesting background article by David Patmore together with the CVs of the leaders of the cast and production team. The Italian libretto (no translation) is available on the Naxos website as detailed in the leaflet.

If you must have the full collection of the operas of this presently very popular composer, your alternative to this production is the Teatro Regio di Parma production of Daniele Abbado on Hardy HCD 4025. Michele Pertusi as the Doge and Mariella Devia as his wife are the excellent leads in a very strong dramaturgical account that gets more to the spirit and heart of Donizetti. The sound is somewhat variable but that is more than made up for by spirited performances, committed choreography, and dramatic staging.

Robert McKechnie

A pedestrian production with some disappointing singing.