Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
I Due Foscari - Tragic Opera in three acts (1844)
Francesco Foscari, Ageing Doge of Venice, - Leo Nucci (baritone); Jacopo Foscari, his son - Roberto De Biasio (tenor); Lucrezia Contarini, Jacopo’s wife - Tatiana Serjan (soprano); Loredano, an enemy of the Foscari - Roberto Tagliavini (bass); Barbarigo, friend of Lorendano - Gregory Bonfatti (tenor); Pisana, Marcella Polidori (soprano); Doge's Servant - Alessandro Bianchini (bass)
Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro Regio, Parma, Italy/Donato Renzetti
Director: Joseph Franconi Lee; Set and costumes by William Orlandi
Video Director: Tiziano Mancini
rec. Teatro Regio, Parma Festival, 11 October 2009
Video format: 1080i. Aspect: 16:9. Sound Format: DTS-HD MA 5.01
Subtitles: Italian (original language), English, German, French, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Japanese
Booklet essay in English, German and French
C MAJOR BLU-RAY 721104 [115:00 + 10:00]
I due Foscari was Verdi's sixth opera and is numbered likewise in this series called Tutto Verdi which will encompass all twenty-six, plus his Requiem, from the Parma Verdi Festival. They are issued to celebrate the bicentenary of composer’s birth. As I noted in my review of number three, Nabucco, this statement does beg a question as there are twenty-eight different titles in the Verdi canon Two, Jérusalem (1847) was a re-write of his fourth opera, I Lombardi (1843) to a French libretto for the composer’s debut at the Paris Opéra, and Aroldo (1857) was a re-write of Stiffelio (1850) to get away from the portrayal of a married Protestant Minister that offended some audience sensibilities. I suspect that these two re-writes will not feature in Tutto Verdi, I also expect that the two other operas that Verdi wrote to French libretti for Paris, Les Vêpres Siciliennes (1855) and Don Carlos (1867) will be recorded in their Italian translations. These statements are not meant as criticism as the project is particularly welcome because of the venues chosen. The project will make available video recordings of Verdi operas not hitherto available. The first of these, Un Giorno di Regno, Verdi’s second opera, is already available and will be reviewed shortly, his eighth,Alzira, is promised.
Verdi had considered an opera based on Venice for his fifth work. This was scheduled for his debut at the Teatro La Fenice, premiere opera house in that city, in the Winter Season of 1844. However, Venice had the reputation of a festival city, its darker side carefully concealed. Consequently, Verdi was warned off and instead set Ernani.For his Rome debut later that year, and after the censors had considered his first choice as being subversive, his thoughts returned to an opera based on Venice and in particular on Lord Byron's play The Two Foscari. With his innate feel for the theatre he recognised that the play did not have the theatrical grandeur needed for an opera and instructed his librettist, Piave, to find content to add a splash.
Set in Venice around 1457, the story concerns the aged Doge, Francesco Foscari, who has made enemies in the all-powerful Council of Ten. His son Jacopo, has been charged and tortured on false accusation and sent to exile away from his wife and children. His wife pleads with his father, as Doge, to exercise clemency and allow his son to return to Venice. Francesco cannot usurp his judicial duty and his son is sentenced to further exile. As Loredano, an implacable enemy of the Foscari gloats, Francesco, as father, meets his son in prison. Jacopo is summoned to be told he is to be exiled again, with his wife and children forbidden to accompany him. 
In the final act, preceded by a regatta and Venetian Festival, Jacopo is led to a boat for exile. Back in the Doge’s Palace his father reflects that the last of his three sons has been taken from him. A letter revealing Jacopo’s innocence arrives too late as the young man has died of grief. Bereft, Francesco then faces the ultimate insult of being forced to abdicate his position and Lucrezia returns to find him stripped of his crown and robes. He dies of grief.
This production by Joseph Franconi Lee was seen in Bilbao in November preceding this recording. William Orlandi’s set and costumes are traditional and in period. There are no regietheater idiotics or idiosyncrasies. His set of a wide stepped front, somewhat in the Pierre Luigi Pizzi style, is backed by sliding panels which open and close to reveal quick scene-changes. In act three they also reveal a very colourful backdrop for the dancers at the Festival as Jacopo is sent to his second exile.
The Teatro Regio in Parma is beautiful in itself and of modest size. The singers do not have to force, particularly when accompanied by a maestro of such experience and sympathy as Donato Renzetti. The title role is sung by Leo Nucci, at the time just past his mid-sixties. Compared with his performance as Nabucco the same year he seems to find the role less stressful and although he scoops occasionally he exhibits little of the vocal spread and unsteadiness I found in that performance. I regret that despite his long professional life in the top league of Verdi baritones, he could not refrain from breaking role and acknowledging the applause after Francesco’s aria near the end of the opera as the Doge, faces the reality of his position (CH.35). It is a serious blot on the drama and to a degree unforgivable in a professional of his standing who had just given a memorable interpretation. I gather that Nucci did not sing all the scheduled performances with the young Italian Claudio Sgura proving a very able substitute.
Roberto De Biasio sang the role of Jacopo Foscari. I recall admiring his performance as Edgardo in a recording of Lucia di Lammermoor from the Donizetti Festival at Bergamo in October 2006 (see review). I noted that he showed a voice of much promise with a pleasing clear timbre and making effort at expression as well as singing mezza and sotto voce when appropriate. These attributes are evidenced in his interpretation here. I was, however, disappointed that his phrasing still lacks that vital element of elegance that raises the merely average singer to the good. He has plenty of promise and could gainfully learn from Carlo Bergonzi in this respect. 

As Lucrezia, the Russian soprano Tatiana Serjan sang particularly well and acted with conviction in both body and voice. Her voice is even, pure, and able to exhibit a wide variety of modulation and colour. As the implacable Loredano, Roberto Tagliavini sang with sonority and admirable steadiness, also characterising well.
The only serious rival on video is that from La Scala in 1988 conducted by Muti (Opus Arte OA LS 3007 D). Renato Bruson acts superbly, but is not always steady. In the larger theatre neither the soprano nor the tenor in that issue comes over with any distinction. On CD, the Philips recording with Carreras as Jacopo, Cappuccilli as Doge, Katia Ricciarelli as Lucrezia and Sam Remy as Loredano stands alone in terms of quality (Philips 422 426-2).
Robert J Farr
From the delightful theatre at Parma, a performance of this rarely staged early Verdi tragedy that should satisfy many of the composer’s enthusiasts. 

see also review by Simon Thompson of DVD release
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