Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)
Marino Faliero - Tragic opera in three acts (1835)
Marino Faliero, elderly Doge of Venice - Giorgio Surian (bass); Elena, his wife, in love with his nephew - Rachele Stanisci (soprano); Fernando, Marinoís nephew - Ivan Magrž (tenor); Israele Bertucci, Captain of the Arsenal - Luca Grassi (baritone); Steno, a young patrician member of the Council of Forty - Luca Dall'Amico (bass-baritone); Leoni, member of the Council of Ten - Leonardo Gramegna (tenor)
Orchestra and Chorus of the Bergamo Musical Festival Gaetano Donizetti/Bruno Cinquegrani
Director: Mario Spada; Set and Costumes: Alessandro Ciammarughi; Video Director: Matteo Ricchetti
Filmed: Teatro Donizetti, Bergamo, Italy, 31 October, 2 November 2008
Picture format: NTSC 16:9. Sound format: PCM 2.0, Dolby Surround 5.0, DTS 5.0.
Menu language: English; Subtitles: English and Italian
Performed in the Critical revision by Maria Chiara Bertieri for BMG Ricordi Music Publishing
NAXOS OPERA DVD 2.110616-17 [73.27 + 78.48]
NAXOS OPERA CLASSICS CD 8.660303 [72.40 + 71.44]

A rhetorical question; when is good not good enough? In the case of Donizettiís Marino Faliero it was when it was up against Belliniís I Puritani premiered in the same theatre and with the same principal singers six weeks before in the winter of 1835. According to the booklet essay, it was Donizettiís fiftieth opera. My list says his forty-sixth and the New Grove a different figure. Ití not that some of us cannot count but rather what constitutes a new opera. Donizetti famously re-worked the music of Maria Stuarda into Buondelmonte. This was after the King of Naples banned the former, at very short notice, after hearing about the scene between the two Queens and the physical scrap between the divas that ensued! I count that as one opera, others as two.

Donizetti and Bellini had first featured together in the Milan season at the Teatro Carcano in the winter of 1830 when a group of bankers tried, but failed, to take over the franchise of La Scala. The bankers had signed up both composers, Felice Romani the then leading librettist, and a cast of singers including the leading tenor of the day, Rubini, and the formidable soprano Giuditta Pasta. Both composers hit the high spots with Anna Bolena and La Sonnambula respectively, works which guaranteed each a successful future. Donizetti was the more prolific often composing and presenting three or four new works each year. By the time the two composers featured, at Rossiniís invitation in the 1835 season at the Thťâtre Italien, Paris, Donizetti had presented nineteen operas whilst the often ailing Bellini managed a mere three. Rossini had gathered a formidable group of principal singers for the season. These included the baritone Tamburini and bass Lablache as well as Rubini and Pasta. This fabulous quartet became known as The Puritani Quartet as they toured Belliniís work to London. Over several seasons they reprised it in Paris, achieving the singersí great fame and fortune along the way. Whilst Donizetti went on to compose a further twenty-two or so operas before being overtaken by the consequences of tertiary syphilis in 1848 at the age of fifty-one. He was in a comatose state for the last years of his life. I Puritani was Belliniís last opera, he died suddenly six months after the premiere shortly before his thirty-fourth birthday. There would be no more rivalries between the two.

Each composer attended the premiere of the otherís opera, so Donizetti knew what he was up against in terms of music and audience response. He set a more dark and dramatic libretto with no happy ending. The story is loosely based on historical fact of Marino Faliero, an elderly Doge of Venice, who was executed for plotting to make himself a Royal ruler; an aspiration not unknown in the Paris of 1835! Marino Faliero was Donizettiís first opera for the Thťâtre Italien. He tempered his compositional style towards the French model. Its immediate successor in the Donizetti oeuvre is Lucia di Lamermoor, the most romantic and melodic of all his works and very much in the tradition of Italian opera at the time. Despite being somewhat overshadowed by Belliniís opera, Marino Faliero enjoyed a long and successful run of international performances throughout the 19th century before disappearing from the stage until its modern revival in 1966.

This performance from the Bergamo Festival was based in the town where the composer was born and died. It is set in period costume and in an evocative and imaginative set, when one can see it that is. Even allowing for the fact that much of the plotting goes on at night the stage scene is often under-lit. The presentation of both the DVD and CD issue has the long act 1 on the first disc with acts 2 and 3 on the second. Thankfully this issue is by Naxos so that on the DVD the Chapter divisions are generous and in number sequence, unlike those on the Dynamic Label from Italian Festivals. Artist profiles are another welcome virtue to go alongside an informed and informative introductory essay, and the full list of Chapter and Track divisions and timings.

As to the singing, not many of these soloists would compete with the original quartet, but there are not many around that could. As the ageing Doge the Croat bass Giorgio Surian is an excellent actor and whilst having moments of vocal unsteadiness, he has been around for many years, creates a viable character whose dignity is impressive. Luca Grassi as leader of the anti-patrician insurrection, Israele Bertucci, acts the role with conviction and sings with good expression if a little dry of tone. As the Dogeís wife, who fancies something younger in the form of her husbandís nephew, Rachele Stanisci, lacks the ideal weight of voice but is expressive and in tune. Her soft singing in the last act is especially noteworthy. As her would-be lover, Ferrando, Ivan Magri has to attempt the high notes written for Rubini, famous for his skill in the highest tessitura and range. He fails in this test, although the enthusiastic applause at his curtain made me wonder about my critical judgement until I repeated his efforts in the act 2 aria and cavatina, which Rubini had to encore at the premiere. I find Magriís tone rather bleaty and dry.

The conducting of Bruno Cinquegrani is well paced and the chorus vibrant and involved. It being Paris a ball scene and some dancing was de rigueur. The trouble with this brings me back to the stage picture and lighting. Whilst the patterned centre of the stage, often a point of focus, comes into its own in the final act as it opens to allow the prisoners to emerge for their execution. However, as elsewhere, and as with the dancing, it is so poorly lit as to negate the effect.

A full libretto, in Italian is available at www.naxos.com/libretto/660303.htm

Robert J Farr

Despite questionable lighting, if you can afford it go for the DVD. Subtitles make the complications of the action and the plot so much clearer.

See also reviews by Robert McKechnie and James Zychowicz.