The libretto to Donizetti’s Marino Faliero is one of
those which give opera a bad name. The text, by Giovanni Emanuele
Bidera, is based on a play by Casimir Delavigne and on Byron’s
verse drama. The opera was written for Paris’s Théâtre
Italien and was Donizetti’s fiftieth. The cast was a distinguished
one: Giulia Grisi, Giovanni Battista Rubini, Antonio Tamburini
and Luigi Lablache. Bidera’s libretto seems to have provided
Donizetti with the sort of strong situations that he wanted
and he responded with some typically fine music. Dramatically,
however, the work is badly compromised.
The story concerns the doge of Venice, Marino Faliero (Giorgio
Surian) and his wife Elena (Rachele Stanisci). She has been
cheating on him with his nephew Fernando (Ivan Magri) and there
have been rumours. These have been stoked by Steno (Luca Dall’Amico),
a young patrician and member of the Council of Forty. But all
this has happened before the opera starts.
We open with a scene in the Arsenale where Steno harangues the
workers much to the disgust of Israele (Luca Grassi) the captain
of the Arsenale. Fernando and Elena have what appears to be
a final meeting and she gives him a veil in memory of their
love. Faliero is inveigled by Israele into joining a conspiracy
against Steno. At a masked party given by one of the Council
of Ten, all this come together in a typically dramatic operatic
Between Act 1 and Act 2, Fernando and Steno have fought a duel
and in Act 2 the dying Fernando is found by Faliero, Israele
and the conspirators. In Act 3 Elena learns of Fernando’s death
from Faliero who is himself arrested by the Council of Ten,
leaving Elena alone. The final scene is Faliero’s trial at which
he finally forgives Elena for her infidelity.
So we have a love affair that ends in Act 1, a tenor hero who
dies in Act 2, a soprano who only gets two effective scenes
and a leading man (Faliero) who is neither hero nor villain.
In some ways, the opera resembles Simon Boccanegra, but
Donizetti lacks Verdi’s ability to pull a dramatically unsatisfactory
libretto into a satisfying opera. Add to that the fact that
Bidera’s structure is just too dramatically hobbled and lacks
the sort of background and detail which would draw the plotting
That said, there are a sequence of scenes in which Bidera provides
suitable vivid material for Donizetti to work with. We get some
stunning individual episodes; they just don’t quite add up to
a vitally taut narrative.
Soprano Rachele Stanisci has a rather dramatic, spinto voice
with echoes of Callas in the way her vibrato colours her voice.
Her account of Elena’s Act 3 scene is tremendously vivid, real
scenery-chewing stuff, only marred by an element of strenuousness
in her handling of the fioriture and that vibrato which
is rather a personal taste.
She is partnered in the Act 1 duet by the Fernando of Ivan Magri,
who has a similarly impressive spinto voice, albeit one with
a fine degree of focus. The duet is brilliantly done, though
again there is an element of obvious exertion in the delivery.
Magri’s solo scene in Act 2 where he looks forward to death
is finely handled and Magri’s focus and sense of line impresses
very much. Ideally I would have preferred a slightly lighter,
less spinto voice in the role but Magri carries off the tessitura
with complete aplomb.
The other stand-out soloist is Luca Grassi as Israele, the main
conspirator. He crops up throughout the opera in a variety of
situations and impresses with the consistency of his excellent
delivery, with his nicely focused and attractively grainy voice.
Unfortunately Giorgio Surian in the title role is a disappointment,
his delivery is rather lumpen and a bit characterless. His voice
fatally lacks a centre, so his vibrato dominates overly. But
even Surian cannot spoil the Act 2 finale in which Fernando
dies and the conspirators swear vengeance.
The remaining smaller roles are all well cast.
The chorus have some strong scenes, but cannot disguise the
fact that there seem to be ensemble problems between stage and
pit. Conductor Bruno Cinquegrani keeps Donizetti’s music moving
nicely but obviously failed in some of his traffic policeman
The Naxos booklet contains a short essay and a detailed synopsis
but no libretto. The text, in Italian, can be downloaded from
their web-site but there’s no English translation. The booklet
includes photographs of the Bergamo production which was evidently
rather handsome, and the DVD of the performance is also available
This is one of a group of operas where Donizetti was experimenting
with drama which was not soprano-led. Here he produced a series
of dramatic moments which don’t quite add up to a fully dramatic
evening. The opera is relatively concise and the performance
here is certainly strong enough to warrant anyone buying it
to fulfil their curiosity or to fill a gap in their shelves.
see also review by Robert