Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)
Marino Faliero - Opera seria in three acts (1835) [152:14]
Giorgio Surian - Marino Faliero; Rachele Stanisci - Elena; Ivan Magri - Fernando; Lucia Grassi - Israele Bertucci) Luca Dall’Amico - Steno; Domenico Menini - Un gondolier e Strozzi; Paola Spissu - Irene) Alexander Stefanosky - Vicenzo; Giuseppe Di Paola - Beltrame; Enrico Marchesini - Pietro
Orchestra e Coro del Bergamo Musica Festival Gaetano Donizetti/Bruno Cinquegrani
rec. 31 October 2008 and 2 November 2008 at Teatro Donizetti, Bergamo, Italy
Picture: NTSC/16:9
Sound: PCM stereo/Dolby Surround 5.0/DTS 5.0
Region: 0 (worldwide)
Subtitles: Italian, English
NAXOS DVD 2.110116-117
[73:27 + 78:47]

Donizetti’s opera Marino Faliero is an engaging work from the composer’s maturity. Premiered in 1835, around the time of Bellini’s I Puritani, it shares with the latter stylistic elements that connect both to grand opera. With its libretto based on a popular event in Italian history, the tragic fall of a fourteenth-century doge, Marino Faliero also reflects narrative details popular in nineteenth-century opera, including an illicit love affair, political unrest and conspiracy, a scheming nephew, intrigues at a masked ball, passionate hatred and equally intense forgiveness. It is no wonder that this historic tale inspired Lord Byron’s verse drama. At the same time, the strong emotions that can be inferred in that drama find expression in Donizetti’s effective score. While this opera may no longer hold the stage, it was indeed popular from its premiere through the mid-nineteenth century, and while it is difficult to explain the absence of Marino Faliero in modern repertoire, the vocal writing certainly makes intensive demands on the cast.

Marino Faliero is the story of a Venetian doge who ultimately opposes the group of patricians who control Venice. At the same time that Faliero joins a conspiracy, his personal life is compromised through a covert affair between his wife and nephew. Faliero’s response to challenges of his wife’s infidelity accentuate the problems with the outspoken Steno, and midway the nephew Fernando is found murdered. Shortly after, Faliero himself is denounced and imprisoned. After being sentenced to death, Faliero learns of his wife Elena’s affair, to which he responds by denouncing her. Yet prior to his execution, Faliero forgives his wife, and the opera concludes with Elena’s grief at her husband’s death.

Like some of Donizetti’s historic operas, Marino Faliero is structured to emphasize the role of the title character. Some critics would hold that the role of Elena is not written strongly enough to balance him. This is a natural outgrowth of the libretto, which allows the bass playing Faliero to have the same musical command of the work, as the soprano playing Queen Elisabeth in Donizetti’s three operas about that character. At the same time, other male characters benefit from the weight of the music given them. For example Fernando, whose tenor arias stand out for the finesse required which the legendary Giovanni Rubini created for the premiere of this opera. That kind of writing supports the vocal demands of this tragedia lyrica.

That stated, some of the music sounds more dramatic than some of the composer’s earlier scores, and various scenes reflect the kind of dramaturgy that Verdi would pursue a decade later. The opening scene is a case in point, in which the head of the Venetian Arsenal, Israele (baritone) sets the stage by recounting the victories of Faliero just as the patrician Steno (bass) harasses the sailors who work for Israele. Israele, sung here by Luca Grassi, is a strong character, whose response to the situation anticipates his later invitation to Faliero to join the conspiracy.

Likewise, the second scene contains elements that are essential to opera, an encounter between Elena and Fernando, with the obligatory exchange of a memento (here Elena’s veil), just before Faliero enters. There’s also the dissembling Fernando responding to his uncle with concerns about the public accusations of Elena’s infidelity. The incongruity of the scene in the context of real life evaporates in the milieu of opera. The situation contains two duets between Elena and Fernando, followed by the scene with Faliero. Here Ivan Magri gives laudable effort in a role that demands much. In this production the orchestra sometimes seems to compete with Magri, yet his first-act aria “Di mia patria o bel soggiorno” stands out.

As to the production itself, the sets give a sense of the period, an element important to the plot. The rich colors and dark combinations fit the story well, with the lighting serving the characters well. The realistic elements of the sets are useful props for the singers, and are visually engaging by fitting well into the text. This dark work comes to life in this production, which benefits from the choice of presenting Marino Faliero as a costume drama in rich detail.

Credit is due to the entire cast for its valiant efforts with this challenging score. Giorgio Surian is convincing in the title role, with Rachele Stanisci presenting a strong vocal and dramatic creation of Elena, the erring, but contrite spouse. Ivan Magri assumes the Fernando role with flare. His extroverted vocalism is part of nature of the music given his character. Luca Grassi’s secondary role of Israele is well sung, and serves as a strong connection between the conspirators and Faliero, the crucial element in this tragic opera.

The orchestra and chorus of the Bergamo Music Festival offer fine support. Conductor Cinquegrani demonstrates his command not only with solid tempos and clear direction, but also with the timing between numbers. His pacing contributes to the overall effect. Likewise, the stage direction by Marco Spada serves us well in allowing the performers to interact eloquently in this staging.

Since this work is performed rarely, it is useful to have a reliable video available between those infrequent productions of this otherwise strong score. The sound is full and reliable throughout, with the navigation keyed well to the individual numbers. Recorded at live performances, this recent release makes a strong production of Marino Faliero readily available. A wide audience can now hear and view Donizetti’s fine score and, through it, can have a broader frame of reference for the composer’s other works, including Lucia di Lammermoor, which followed soon after.

James Zychowicz

see also review by Robert McKechnie

A strong production now made readily available.