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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
I due Foscari (1844)
Francesco Foscari – Vladimir Stoyanov (baritone)
Jacopo Foscari – Stefan Pop (tenor)
Lucrezia Contarini – Maria Katzarava (soprano)
Jacopo Loredano – Giacomo Prestia (bass)
Barbarigo – Francesco Marsiglia (tenor)
Pisana – Erica Wenmeng Gu (mezzo-soprano)
Attendant on the Council of Ten – Vasyl Solodkyy (tenor)
Servant of the Doge – Gianni De Angelis (bass)
Filarmonica Arturo Toscanini, Orchestra Giovanile della Via Emilia, Coro del teatro Rewgio di Parma / Paolo Arrivabeni
rec. live, 11 October 2019, Teatro Regio di Parma, Festival Verdi
Libretto with parallel English translation
DYNAMIC CDS7865.02 [69:29 + 44:45]

Verdi’s sixth opera has been bestowed rather harsh commentaries in the past by authorities like Carlo Gatti, Dyneley Hussey and even Francis Toye. Charles Osborne in his ‘The Complete Operas of Verdi’ (1969) is of a different opinion and concludes the article: ‘Of I due Foscari it would, I feel, be true to say that Verdi almost completely succeeded in setting down as an integrated whole the vision of gloom and accidia which Byron’s play suggested to him.’ Historically it has also fared relatively well. The premiere at the Teatro Argentina in Rome, on 3 November 1844, though surrounded by problems out of Verdi’s control, like a recent rise in seat prices and some mediocre singers, was fairly positively received by both audience and press. It also soon spread to other stages and until the 1860s it was staged in at least 22 Italian towns and also reached Barcelona and Paris and also London and Boston. In modern times – read after WW2 – it has been revived rather frequently but recordings have been few and far between. The only studio recordings have been a Cetra set in 1951, to commemorate 50 years after Verdi’s death, conducted by Carlo Maria Giulini with a young Carlo Bergonzi as Jacopo Foscari, and the 1977 Philips recording under Lamberto Gardelli with Ricciarelli, Carreras, Cappuccilli and Ramey.

The story has historical background from Venice in the 15th century and the libretto is based on Lord Byron’s 1821 play The Two Foscari. Verdi’s librettist Piave has however compressed the story to make it more suitable for opera purposes and it certainly is a taut and gripping drama, painted in dark colours.

Very briefly: We witness a father-son relation. The father Francesco Foscari 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. Besides the two Foscari we also encounter Lucrezia, Jacopo’s wife, and Jacopo Loredano, a member of the Council of Ten and Francesco’s rival for the Doge title.

To my mind the music is congenial to the drama and many of the important musical numbers are quite marvellous. There is also, it has to be said, some numbers, in particular choral pieces that are more also-rans and even quite banal. But that is in a way part and parcel of the hectic existence of Verdi’s during his galley years. In March 1844 his previous opera, Ernani had premiered at the Teatro la Fenice in Venice to great acclaim, and when the composer returned to his home in Milan, he found himself heaped upon with offers to write new operas for various theatres. One was from Rome and it gave him four months to choose a subject, have a libretto written, compose, find suitable singers and rehearse. No wonder Verdi contracted psychosomatic illnesses: headache, pains in the stomach and sore throat. Stress resistance was obviously not his strongest quality and that was something he had to live with for the rest of his creative life. Under such conditions to create a new opera in literally a couple of months is a feat in itself and there wasn’t time to weigh every tone. The resulting opera would have been admirable even though he had had a full year at his disposal. Anyway, the more I listen to I due Foscari, the more I appreciate it.

The present recording was made live at a performance at the Parma Verdi Festival on 11 October last year and the production was new. This was the third of a total of four performances. Unavoidably there are stage noises and, mostly, brief applause. The recording quality is good and the balance between stage and pit mostly good. Paolo Arrivabeni leads his forces idiomatically and both playing and choral singing are fully worthy of the occasion. On paper the cast seems promising but unfortunately I have reservations. Giacomo Prestia as Foscari’s rival Loredano has been a pillar of strength for many years and he can still muster both power and venom but he is rather rusty in his present state. Stefan Pop as Jacopo Foscari has stood out as a good lyric tenor, and here is careful over nuances and sings with lyrical glow, but the role requires a heftier voice – honestly he is over-parted by the role. I have an almost 35-year-old recording from Teatro Regio di Torino, where Nicola Martinucci sings the role – a spinto tenor who was a great Radamčs in his heyday. He has less nuances than Pop but he rides the orchestra effortlessly and with glorious tone. The name Vladimir Stoyanov in the cast list made me look forward to the recording. I remember with great pleasure a recording on Dynamic of Lucia di Lammermoor, made in 2004. His Enrico there was truly great, and I have heard him in other roles since then. Alas, here he is but a shadow of his former self. The tone is wooden and grey and his vibrato sometimes reaches a stage where it should be denoted as a wobble. It is such a pity since he very obviously knows the role and identifies himself with poor Francesco’s predicament. I wish he had recorded this a half-dozen years earlier. For a worthy alternative you have to go to the Torino recording mentioned above, where Renato Bruson, then about the same age as Stoyanov here, sings with beauty of tone and not a sign of unwanted vibrato. It is true that he doesn’t dig as deeply emotionally as Stoyanov – he has always been neuter in his interpretations – but for sheer vocalism he is hard to beat. The best singing on the present set comes from Mexical soprano Maria Katzarava as Lucrezia. Her aria Tu al cui sguardo omnipossente (CD 1 tr. 7) in the first act is very well executed and the aria itself, with harp accompaniment, is one of the finest numbers in the opera. In the first act finale, in duet with the Doge, she is also in great shape and in the last act (CD 2 tr. 9) she sings Piů non vive excellently.

In spite of the shortcomings I have accounted for, I can still admire the involvement and total conviction of the three main soloists and my listening session has further convinced me that I due Foscari has claims to be one of the best of the operas from Verdi’s galley years. For a consummate recording, however, go to the Philips (today Decca) recording with Gardelli mentioned in the first paragraph.

Göran Forsling

Previous review (Blu-ray): Robert Farr

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