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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
I Due Foscari
- tragic opera in three acts (1844) [113 mins]
Francesco Foscari, Doge of Venice – Plácido Domingo (baritone); Jacopo Foscari, his son – Francesco Meli (tenor); Lucrezia Contarini, Jacopo’s wife – Anna Pirozzi (soprano); Jacopo Loredano, enemy of the Foscari – Andrea Concetti (bass); Barbarigo – Edoardo Milletti (tenor); Pisana – Chiara Isotton (soprano)
Students of the Ballet Academy Teatro alla Scala/ Frédéric Olivieri (dance director)
Coro del Teatro alla Scala di Milano / Bruno Casoni (chorus master)
Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala di Milano / Michele Mariotti (conductor)
Stage and Set Director – Alvis Hermanis
Costume Designer – Kristīne Jurjāne
Lighting Designer – Gleb Filshtinsky
Choreography – Alla Sigalova
Video Designer – Ineta Sipunova
Dramatic Adviser – Olivier Lexa
Video Director – Tiziano Manchini
rec. March 2016 Teatro alla Scala, Milan, Italy
Filmed in High Definition - Mastered from an HD source
Picture format: 1080i, 16:9
Sound formats: a) LPCM Stereo 2.0ch, 48kHz/24 bit, b) DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1ch, 48kHz
Subtitles in Italian (original language), German, English, French, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Japanese
C MAJOR 742104 Blu-ray [137 mins]

This C Major release of Verdi’s I Due Foscari features Plácido Domingo as Francesco Foscari the Doge of Venice and Francesco Meli as his son Jacopo Foscari. Both appeared in Thaddeus Strassberger’s production of the same opera in 2015 at Royal Opera House, London released on Opus Arte (review). Following acclaimed performances as the Doge, Domingo continues his reinvention as a baritone in Alvis Hermanis’ new production for La Scala, Milan, the home of Italian opera, which was filmed in March 2016.

After his great success with Ernani, the thirty-one-year-old Verdi received a commission from the Teatro Argentina, Rome for a new opera. From several possible projects considered by Verdi the outcome was I due Foscari (The Two Foscari) a three-act opera, described as a lyric tragedy and his sixth opera from the period known as his ‘galley years’. The libretto by Francesco Maria Piave is based on a historical play The Two Foscari (1821) by Lord Byron. Its premiere, in November 1844 at Teatro Argentina, Rome, was received with great enthusiasm by the public. Set in a corrupt mid-fifteenth century Venice I due Foscari is regarded as Verdi’s most melancholy and shadowy opera with the plot based on a true story centering around political conspiracy, corruption, with treachery pitted against family loyalty. In the score, which contains several outstanding arias, Verdi places notably heavy emphasis on the ensemble element. La Scala intendent Alexander Pereira states that I due Foscari is not often played in international opera houses but it very much remains part of the Verdi tradition in Italy. He believes that I due Foscari is a work that has been missing at La Scala for too long and now it has come at exactly the right time. Domingo considers that patriarch Francesco Foscari is an important role, he is an historical figure and the libretto is excellent. “The final scene is pivotal which marks the end of this poor man (the Doge) who has lost three children and as his fourth child Jacopo goes into exile, he dies as well”.

In this shadowy and intensely tragic plot, Latvian stage director Alvis Hermanis has provided a largely traditional staging, rather sparse with little in the way of gimmickry or provocation, serving to allow one to concentrate on the stage action. Hermanis has also designed the set and uses four layers of leg curtains and valances to frame and reduce the area of the proscenium aperture to a far more manageable size. On stage, Hermanis makes only spare use of props, but his choice is effective. The Doge’s chamber contains just three items of stage furniture, an armillary sphere, a terrestrial globe and a large armchair (rather like a small throne). The State prison scene has Lions of Saint Mark (winged lions holding bibles that move on wheels) and the Doge’s bedchamber adorned with heavily felt embossed wallpaper contains only the large four-poster bed. Noticeably sparely decorated too, the set relies mainly on faint images painted on rear drops or projected on scrims for example: a Venice skyline through ornate arches, the Bridge of Sighs, moored Gondolas and Francesco Hayez’s painting The Parting of the Two Foscari. So those looking for a staging with lavishly appointed sets of the type that Franco Zeffirelli was noted for, should look elsewhere. The costumes designed by Kristīne Jurjāne are striking and this is where this staging primarily validates its traditional approach to the period. Beautifully designed and finely detailed, using predominantly mint green, crimson red, mustard yellow and caramel brown to which lighting designer Gleb Filshtinsky adds a pastel hue. Standing out, rather menacingly, in their floor length, crimson gowns and caps are the powerful Council of Ten and the Senate members.

Here, in what was Plácido Domingo’s fourth different production as Francesco Foscari the ageing Doge of Venice, he sings as well as in any of his baritone reincarnations I have seen. His interpretation of the suffering Doge is totally convincing and affecting; the Doge upholds the law of the land at the expense of the destruction of his family. Domingo’s outstanding acting is sympathetic to the role and his voice is generally on fine form, displaying attractive and expressive singing. There is some strain in his lower register and at times his voice does seem a touch tired compared to his prime, but this is only to be expected and of course he is singing a role that virtually matches his age. Jacopo Foscari, the Doge’s only surviving son, accused of murder, is sung by Genoese tenor Francesco Meli. This is already Meli’s fourth separate production of I due Foscari. Meli does a reasonable, steady job as Jacopo without his performance being especially refined or memorable. There is a slight metallic tone to his voice which seems to come at the expense of some sweetness, nevertheless his singing has consistency and displays even production. It’s a shame that few tenors can manage the replacement cabaletta Sento Iddio che mi chiama with its high tessitura, intended for star tenor Matteo de Candia (known as Mario) at Paris in 1846, which as usual isn’t used here. Naples-born soprano Anna Pirozzi takes the role of Jacopo’s compassionate wife Lucrezia Contarini and although she has a tendency to some unevenness, she sings strongly with notable dramatic expression. The audience clearly approved, if the level of applause is anything to go by. A superb actor, bass Andrea Concetti excels as Loredano creating a sinister and revengeful member of the Council of Ten who relishes his part in crushing the Foscari family and driving the Doge to his death. Captured superbly on screen I won’t easily forget the final scene as the treacherous Loredano faces the audience and laughs chillingly as the Doge dies.

A charismatic figure at the podium, Michele Mariotti seems to have captured the essence of this Verdi score and conducts the Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala di Milano adeptly; they respond with spirited high-quality playing. I enjoyed the steadiness of the performance from the La Scala chorus, clearly well drilled by chorus master Bruno Casoni. Two or three spells of dancing from the male Students of the Ballet Academy Teatro alla Scala weren’t part of the scenario but served to enliven the proceedings.

No problems at all with the sound quality which has the usual stereo and surround options. Video director Tiziano Manchini and video designer Ineta Sipunova have done an expert job with the High Definition picture, choosing a range of shots and are not afraid to get up close. There are a few shots of the conductor in the pit but nothing of the La Scala audience to be seen which for my taste robs the live performance of some atmosphere. There is bonus footage primarily of Ioan Holender interviewing Plácido Domingo about this staging of I Due Foscari at La Scala but there is around as much time taken up also interviewing director Alvis Hermanis, La Scala intendent Alexander Pereira and tenor Francesco Meli. Amusingly, Holender jokes to Domingo that this is now the only role for which Domingo, aged seventy-five here, is still too young as the Doge he is playing is eighty-four. In truth the interviews don’t amount to very much but are interesting nevertheless and I like to have them. The accompanying booklet contains a valuable track listing, an essay and a synopsis. Several people have drawn attention to the unfortunate error on the rear cover that reads amusingly ‘Servant of the Dodge’ as opposed to ‘Servant of the Doge’.

Alvis Hermanis’ compelling staging of I Due Foscari from La Scala with Plácido Domingo as the Doge makes a strong case for this relatively neglected Verdi opera.

Michael Cookson

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