Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797–1848)
Marino Faliero – tragic opera in three acts (1835) [144.24]
Marino Faliero – Giorgio Surian (bass)
Elena – Rachele Stanisci (soprano)
Fernando – Ivan Magri (tenor)
Israele – Luca Grassi (baritone)
Steno – Luca Dall’Amico (bass)
Leoni – Leonardo Gramegna (tenor)
Gondolier/Strozzi – Domenico Menini (tenor)
Irene – Paola Spissu (soprano)
Vincenzo – Aleksandr Stefanovski (tenor)
Beltrame – Giuseppe Di Paola (bass)
Pietro – Enrico Marchesini (bass)
Marco – Livio Scarpellini (tenor)
Arrigo – Elvis Fanton (tenor)
Giovanni – Moya Gonzalo Ezequiel (baritone)
Orchestra and Chorus of the Bergamo Musica Festival Gaetano Donizetti/Bruno Cinquegrani
rec. live, Teatro Donizetti, Bergamo, Italy, 31 Oct, 2 Nov 2008
NAXOS 8.660303-04 [72.40 + 71.44]

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 finale.

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 together.

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 duties.

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 from Naxos.

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.

Robert Hugill

see also review by Robert Farr

A strong performance sufficient to warrant anyone buying it to fulfil their curiosity.