Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
I due Foscari (1844)
Francesco Foscari - Leo Nucci
Jacopo Foscari - Roberto di Biasio
Lucrezia - Tatiana Serjan
Loredano - Roberto Tagliavini
Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Regio di Parma/Donato Renzetti
rec. live, Teatro Regio di Parma, October 2009
Joseph Franconi Lee - Stage Director
Picture Format: 16:9, HD
Sound Format: DVD: DTS 5.1, PCM 2.0
Booklet: English, German, French
Subtitles: Italian (original language), English, German, French, Spanish,
Chinese, Korean, Japanese
C MAJOR DVD 721008 [117:00]
Hats off to the Teatro Regio di Parma, who have decided to mark the Verdi bicentenary by performing every single one of his operas. Hats off, too, to Unitel for recording them and releasing each of them on DVD and Blu-Ray. By the end of the project Verdi lovers will be able to call on a fantastic resource to enrich their enjoyment of the composer. It’s great idea, and it’s wonderful to have Verdi’s complete operas on film, performed by one company throughout. In one sense, Parma is the ideal place to attempt it - it’s virtually Verdi’s home town after all, and the theatre claims to have a unique understanding of the composer and his work. However, laudable as their ambition is, you have to admit that Parma isn’t a world class house. The orchestral playing is good but certainly not of the highest order, and the stagecraft in general is rather pedestrian. The chorus are blocked like a school play and they make barely any attempt to act, while Renzetti’s conducting is secure and reliable without setting the world on fire. I couldn’t help but dream of how exciting it might have been if, say La Scala or La Fenice had set themselves this task. Still, we are where we are, and the thing that will make most people decide on whether to go for this set is the quality of the singing.
In one sense, it’s pretty provincial. The soprano and tenor don’t know the meaning of subtlety and blast out all of their numbers at maximum volume and emotional intensity. This isn’t so much of a problem when it’s Tatiana Serjan’s soprano. Yes, she’s strident, and even a little abrasive at times, but she can make a thrilling sound. She chews up the scenery in her first scene and aria - as, in reality, she does in every scene! - and she is always exciting, bringing out the vocal line thrillingly in the big Act 2 ensemble. However, she is a million miles away from tenderness in the affectionate duet and trio of the prison scene. At times she seems to be telling her husband off rather than comforting him! Roberto di Biasio has a similar level of tact, but more damaging for him is the way he hits the notes, or doesn’t. Every scene begins well, and there is clarion-like quality to the voice which you would think would suit early Verdi down to the ground, but the accuracy of his pitching slides as each number progresses, and he develops a worrying tendency to attack his notes from below. This is particularly damaging in his aria and cabaletta in the opening scene, which should be a chance for the tenor to show off the quality of his voice, but ends up becoming a bit of a trial, both for singer and listener.
I must admit I didn’t come to Leo Nucci with high expectations, and at the start my fears were confirmed as he seemed unable to pitch his notes accurately, using excessively grating portamento to slide up to the note that begins each phrase. However, once I tuned in to this, I have to admit he impressed me with both the quality of his tone and the intensity of his phrasing. He still has the vocal energy that so characterised his Figaro and Iago years ago, but now it is tempered by a jaded quality that suits the elderly Foscari very well indeed. His acting is a little wooden, and he seems to have a permanently pained expression on his face, though that’s partly the fault of the libretto. However, he brings real quality to his portrayal of the elderly Doge, torn between his duties to his son and to his state. There’s also gravitas and dignity from him in the ensemble scenes. He is particularly fine in the final scene where he suffers the double tragedy of the death of his son and the Council depriving him of his office. In fact, he reminded me of a wounded lion, a great baritone towards the end of his career summoning up all of his vocal resources to provide a tour de force in a great role.
As for the opera itself, it really is a cracker, and Nucci’s performance reminds you just how good it is. It’s not too difficult to see in this opera much of the material that Verdi would return to in Simon Boccanegra, another tale of an elderly Doge torn apart by family tragedy, and every tune is a winner. The Parma production is fairly minimalist in terms of sets, but then they have a lot of Verdi to pay for in this project, so who can blame them? Costumes are quietly plush though, evoking the period very effectively. The camera work is fine, though I found the DTS sound rather boxy, almost as if they kept experimenting with different placings of the microphones and never quite found the right one. The disc also includes a helpful ten-minute feature introducing the opera.
Simon Thompson 
The opera itself really is a cracker and Nucci reminds you just how good it is. 

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