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)
Domenico Menini, Paola Spissu, Aleksandar Stefanovski, Giuseppe Di Paola, Enrico Marchesini, Livio Scarpellini, Elvis Fanton, Moya Gonzalo Ezequiel
Chorus of the Bergamo Musica Festival Gaetano Donizetti/Fabio Tartari
Orchestra Chorus of the Bergamo Musica Festival Gaetano Donizetti/Bruno Cinquegrani
rec. live, Teatro Donizetti, Bergamo, Italy, 31 Oct, 2 Nov 2008. DDD
Booklet notes with cast-list, track-list and artist biographies in English only
NAXOS 8.660303-04 [72.40 + 71.44]

Marino Faliero is a much neglected opera, which never received the attention it truly deserved. Unfortunately for Donizetti, it came out during the same season as I puritani, Bellini’s masterpiece which was hailed as a superior work by critics and audiences alike. The public responded warmly to I puritani and favoured Bellini’s opera over that by Donizetti.

Donizetti’s opera is based on the true story of 14th Century Venetian Doge as reflected in the tragedy by Casimir Delavigne. The libretto is by Giovanni Emanuele Bidera. Marino Faliero attempted an uprising in order to make himself Prince. He was still the Doge but already very old when he undertook this venture. His conspiracy was discovered and he was beheaded in April 1355. It becomes immediately obvious that an opera based on such a subject cannot be a light affair. In fact, Donizetti’s work is a sombre event both in musical and dramatic terms. Personally, I do not find it inferior to Bellini’s I puritani but its plot is more complicated. There’s no happy, harmonious ending, the heroine is not innocent nor does she go mad; her handsome lover dies in the second half of the opera and the lead character of the title has his head chopped off with an axe. Hardly cheerful stuff! All that said, it does not deserve to be shelved and is one of Donizetti’s great operas. It perhaps already paves the way that opera was to follow when a certain Giuseppe Verdi appeared on the scene.

Donizetti wrote Marino Faliero for a stellar cast, formed by Giulia Grisi, Luigi Lablache, Antonio Tamburini and Giovanni Battista Rubini - the best of the best at the time. They were also the cast of I puritani and became known as the “Puritani Quartet”. With such singers at his disposal, it was obvious that the music Donizetti created was not going to be easy. It is indeed exquisite and extremely difficult to sing. All the roles are extraordinarily demanding, particularly that of Fernando, the Doge’s young nephew, written for the great Rubini. The part requires a high tenor, with great agility, easy high notes and faultless legato; a virtuoso tenor who is also able to sing with great beauty and delicacy of tone. Unfortunately, there are not many such tenors around!

Back in 2007, I reviewed Juan Diego Flórez’s magnificent CD Arias for Rubini where he impeccably performs the scena e cavatina, sung by Fernando in Marino Faliero. Ivan Magri, who sings the part in this Naxos CD, is not at the same level. To be fair, he does try hard and manages to negotiate this incredibly difficult role effectively. He sings with great clarity and reaches the very high notes seamlessly but he is not consistent. Occasionally, his voice wobbles and there is a slightly unpleasant metallic edge to it. He is convincing as the ardent young lover but I did not find his tone beautiful or warm - rather a little whiny. Even so, the audience in Bergamo loved him. They applauded enthusiastically and can be heard giving vent to many “bravos” at the top of their lungs. For a brief moment, I thought that there might be something wrong with my hearing!

Giorgio Surian, as the doomed Doge of the title, delivers a solid performance - one of the best in this set. Surian was a remarkable singer and performed many bel canto roles during his long and distinguished career. Vocally however, age is beginning to take its toll. His tone is still powerful and warm but one notices the strain in some of the (many) difficult and forte passages. Elena, the Doge’s wife is sung by soprano Rachele Stanisci who definitely does not possess the necessary big voice. She applies herself hard and makes a notable effort to surmount the difficulties of her part but the strain is apparent; she often wobbles and her top notes sometimes sound strident. Israele, the captain of the Venetian Arsenal, is sung by the excellent Luca Grassi who, to my mind, delivers the finest performance here. The other cast members are solid in their singing and dramatically plausible. Orchestra, chorus and conductor give a technically admirable reading, supporting the singers effectively. The orchestra is compelling most of the time though there are some parts where they appear to fade slightly. I was unsure if this was due to untimely applause or an intentional, gradual winding down of the sound. My favourite parts were definitely those where the orchestra and the chorus were clearly audible. They convincingly add to the drama and this accomplished choir delivers some excellent moments.

I was eagerly anticipating listening to a full audio performance of this opera. Marino Faliero has not been recorded often - I know of only two: in 1977 and in 2002 - even though Donizetti remains popular. Naxos, as ever, has the brilliant idea of launching recordings of works that are not very well known – a shining example that no other label appears to follow. Therefore, it is all the more difficult for me to say that although I love Donizetti’s music and enjoyed it in this CD, I found the singing rather disappointing.

Margarida Mota-Bull
(Margarida writes more than just reviews, check it online at

I love Donizetti’s music and enjoyed it here but I found the singing rather disappointing.