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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
I due Foscari (1844)
Francesco Foscari, Doge of Venice – Leo Nucci (baritone)
Lucrezia Contarini, Jacopo Foscari’s wife – Guanqun Yu (soprano)
Pisana, friend and confidant of Lucrezia – Bernadett Fodor (mezzo-soprano)
Jacopo Foscari, Son of the Doge Francesco Foscari – Ivan Magri (tenor)
Barbarigo, a Senator – István Horváth (tenor)
Jacopo Loredano, member of the Council of Ten – Miklós Sebastyén (bass-baritone)
Attendant on the Council of Ten – Moon Yung Oh (tenor)
Servant of the Doge – Matthias Ettmayr (bass)
Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Münchner Rundfunkorchester/Ivan Repušić
rec. Live, Prinzregententheater, Munich. 23 & 25 November 2018 and Müpa, Budapest 27 November 2018
BR KLASSIK 900328 [73:00 + 28:40]

Based on a historic play, The Two Foscari by Lord Byron, I due Foscari premiered in November 1844, a little more than a half-year after Verdi’s previous work, the enormously successful Ernani. I due Foscari was also quite popular and was seen until the 1860s in at least 22 Italian towns and also reached Barcelona, Lisbon, Paris, London and Boston within a couple of years. After the Second World War it has been frequently revived, but there is still a dearth of recordings. The only studio recordings are a 1951 Cetra set conducted by Carlo Maria Giulini with Carlo Bergonzi as Jacopo Foscari, and a 1977 Philips recording under Lamberto Gardelli with a stellar cast including Katia Ricciarelli, José Carreras, Piero Cappuccilli and Samuel Ramey. There are a number of live recordings and at least three DVDs. The present version was set down at two performances in Munich and one in Budapest in late November 2018, of which at least the one in Budapest was a concert performance.

The story is about a father-son relation. The father is Doge of Venice and as such he is the upholder of law in Venice. His son Jacopo has returned from exile and is accused of murder. The Council of Ten find him guilty and he is sentenced to further exile. Francesco declares that he loves his son but in his official position he can’t help him. In the end Jacopo dies, Francesco is told that the Council has decided that due to age he should give up his position as Doge. The bell of San Marco announces that a successor has been chosen. Francesco realises that his life has come to an end and when the bell tolls a third time he dies. It is a dark story and the overture opens boldly fanfare like, but pretty soon there is lyrical music with solo clarinet and further on a bassoon is very expressive. This reminds us that at this stage of his development Verdi is beginning to be much more inventive in his scoring and moreover he also employs a leitmotif technique where each of the central characters have their specific motif. It is also a taut structure where several scenes are woven together seamlessly in fairly long units. After the short overture and a chorus filled with darkness, Jacopo expresses his happiness to back in his homeland (CD 1 tr. 3). There is a beautiful prelude and the aria is acceptably sung with a lot of nuances but the tone is rather strident. The cabaletta that follows is lively and well-written, but unfortunately the tenor is heavily taxed and sings with a great deal of strain. In the next scene Lucrezia, Jacopo’s wife, tries to persuade the Doge to see to it that Jacopo is acquitted – but to no avail. Guanqun Yu sings with a good legato and expressive phrasing and is a brilliant Lucrezia. Veteran Leo Nucci as the Doge is fully acceptable, considering his age. He had turned 76 when the recording was made, but his habit of sliding up to notes is irritating.

In the second act we encounter Ivan Magrě’s Jacopo again, and again he is nuanced and sensitive but basically he is over-parted by the role. He has a nice voice but shouldn’t be singing such a heavy role. In the duet scene with Lucrezia (CD 1 tr. 9) they sing well together and Magrě’s voice is quite attractive at pianissimo. In the trio scene, where the Doge joins, all three sound good in the concerted singing and Nucci’s voice has a freshness that belies his age. The act II finale (CD 1 tr. 11) is possibly musically the best part of the opera.

Lucrezia has a fine aria in the last act (CD 2 tr. 3) and her singing is excellent. The Doge’s aria is however less than enticing. One has to admire his intensity and identification with the predicament of his role and he is certainly very touching in the finale, but I wish he had recorded it a decade earlier. And incidentally there are two DVD productions available with Nucci as the Doge, one from 2000 the other from 2009. The present recording has several good moments but in the last resort I advise readers to invest in the Philips recording with Carreras mentioned above. It is at present available only as download, it seems, but it is worth the outlay.

Bottom line: There are several good moments here but go for the Philips instead.

Göran Forsling

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