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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
I Due Foscari, tragic opera in three acts (1844)
Leo Nucci (baritone) – Francesco Foscari, Doge of Venice
Guanqun Yu (soprano) – Lucrezia Contarini, Jacopo’s wife
Bernadett Fodor (mezzo-soprano) – Pisana, friend and confidant of Lucrezia
Ivan Magrì (tenor) – Jacopo Foscari, Doge’s son
István Horváth (tenor) – Barbarigo, a senator
Miklós Sebestyén (bass-baritone) – Jacopo Loredano, Council of Ten member
Moon Yung Oh (tenor) – Council of Ten attendant
Mattias Ettmayr (bass) – Doge’s servent
Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks (Howard Arman: chorus master)
Münchner Rundfunkorchester/Ivan Repušic
rec. live, 23 & 25 November 2018, Prinzregententheater, Munich, Germany; 27 November 2018 Müpa, Budapest, Hungary
No sung texts provided
BR KLASSIK 900328 [73:00 + 28:40]

Following their live 2017 Munich recording of Verdi’s Luisa Miller, principal conductor Ivan Repušic and the Münchner Rundfunkorchester now turn their attention to a lesser known Verdi opera I Due Foscari.
On BR Klassik this recording of I Due Foscari was recorded live in November 2018 at concert performances at Prinzregententheater Munich and Müpa Budapest.

After his great success with Ernani, the thirty-one-year-old Verdi received a commission for a new opera from the Teatro Argentina, Rome. 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’. Francesco Maria Piave’s libretto, a shadowy and intensely tragic plot, is based on a historical play The Two Foscari (1821) by Lord Byron. Its première, in November 1844 at Teatro Argentina, Rome, was received with great enthusiasm by the audience. 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.

Containing several outstanding arias, Verdi places notably heavy emphasis on the ensemble element. In 2016 at the time of stage director Alvis Hermanis’ new production at La Scala, intendent Alexander Pereira explained that I due Foscari is not often played in international opera houses but remains very much part of the Verdi tradition in Italy. Pereira went onto describe that I due Foscari is a work that was missing at La Scala for too long and the Hermanis production had come at exactly the right time. Taking the role of Francesco Foscari, Placido Domingo expounded the importance of the Doge as an historical figure as well as the excellence of the libretto explaining ‘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.’

The highly successful and vastly experienced Verdi specialist, Leo Nucci, gives a compelling portrayal of the Doge of Venice committed to upholding the law of the land at the ultimate expense of the destruction of his family. There is some strain and unevenness in Nucci’s voice compared to his prime but, as the baritone is now in his late seventies, this comes as no surprise, yet certainly doesn’t adversely affect his characterisation of Francesco Foscari (the Doge), a man of mature years. Incidentally, in an interview I saw between Ioan Holender and Placido Domingo the age of the Doge was mentioned as being eighty-four. Nucci’s levels of expression are first class together with good vocal strength and weight, and a satisfactory tone heard to excellent effect in his act one aria O vecchio cor, che batti displaying his torment over the banishment of his son. From act three in the so-called Doge’s (or Francesco’s) aria Questa dunque è l'iniqua mercede where the Venetian Council of Ten insists that he should resign as Doge, palpable is the level of drama Nucci generates. Nucci may not be my ideal Doge but his portrayal is certainly an admirable one. Accused of murder Jacopo Foscari, the Doge’s only surviving son, is sung by Ivan Magrì, another noted Verdi specialist. Highly suited to the role the Italian tenor is in attractive voice and creates a potent sense of drama in a performance that I find both pleasing and memorable. My highlight is Magrì’s rendition of Jacopo’s act two aria Notte, perpetua note - Non maledirmi, o prode, singing with such admirable yearning, exhibiting a lovely sweet quality to his voice. As I’ve stated in previous reviews it’s a shame that, unlike Pavarotti, few tenors can manage Jacopo’s replacement act one cabaletta Sì lo sento, Iddio mi chiama with its extremely high tessitura, intended for star tenor Matteo de Candia (known as Mario) at Paris in 1846; this, as usual, isn’t used here.

No stranger to Verdi heroines such as Desdemona, Leonora and Amelia, Guanqun Yu sings the part of Lucrezia Contarini, the compassionate wife of Jacopo. With a voice that is very bright, bordering on the shrill but when I had played the album a second time, I did warm to the voice of the Chinese soprano. My highlight is Lucrezia’s act one aria Tu al cui sguardo onnipossente - Che mi rechi? with Yu bright and fluid demonstrating just how comfortable she is in her high register, providing good expression in her prayer to God over her distressing predicament. Loredano, the main antagonist, taken by Miklós Sebestyén, although having no actual solo arias, merely recitatives and sections of ensemble pieces, still has a crucial role. As a somewhat sinister and revengeful member of the Council of Ten, Loredano clearly relishes his part in crushing the Foscari family and driving the Doge to his death. The deep resonant tone of the Hungarian bass-baritone sounds in fine condition revealing a dark, sinister edge, ideal for this type of role.

Under the coaching of chorus master, Howard Arman, the Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks sound in really first class form in a performance notable for unity and character. A significant strength is Ivan Repušic’s conducting of the Münchner Rundfunkorchester with well-judged tempi, generating plenty of dramatic tension. Recorded in live concert performance at Prinzregententheater Munich and Müpa Budapest I am very satisfied with the sound quality and the audience applause has been removed even at the conclusion. It’s a real disappointment that the label does not provide sung Italian texts with English translations, although there is a synopsis and an essay written by Sebastian Stauss.

Led by baritone Leo Nucci, this is an excellent recording of I Due Foscari to which I will certainly return.

Michael Cookson

Previous review: Göran Forsling

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