Opera by Giuseppe Verdi on a libretto of Francesco Maria Piave, based on the play The two Foscari by Lord Byron. First performed at the Teatro Argentina in Rome on 3 November 1844. Performances by the Salzburger Festspiele in the Großes Festspielhaus in Salzburg on 11 and 14 August 2017.
Verdi’s early opera I due Foscari is a neglected piece, not very often played. Undeservedly, I’d say, because it is full of beautiful music, the total opposite to its dark, tragic plot. It describes the terrible last days of Doge Francesco Foscari who was dethroned by the cruel and corrupt “Council of the Ten” in 1457, and lost not only his title and his last son, but also his own life due to a plot of his enemy Jacopo Loredano, member of the Ten.
The audience at the Salzburg Festival was lucky to enjoy this great opera in a concert version on August 11th and 14th, 2017.
Plácido Domingo had sung the role before in Los Angeles, Valencia, Vienna, London, Barcelona, and Milano. His skills and his experience made his performance very special. His unique timbre is still there and it does not matter that he is not a “real baritone”. His interpretation of the tragic role became a lesson on how to sing and act Verdi, his rendition of the aria “O vecchio cor che batte” was just heartbreaking, as were many other moments, like especially his final aria “Quel bronzo feral”. Domingo’s unmatched talent to “live” a role with every fibre of his body, and his vocal chords captivates even in this concert version.
Guanqun Yu – a diamond
A congenial partner was Guanqun Yu as his daughter-in-law Lucrezia Contarini. The young Chinese stepped in on a short notice for ill Maria Agresta. Yu was, understandingly, slightly nervous at the beginning of her Salzburg Festival debut, but she recovered quickly, and then showed the audience her talent and her potential: flawless and powerful high notes which never sounded shrill or strained, a strong voice that easily filled the big house even in the lower range, and a great talent to deliver emotions by her voice colour, her body language, delicate gestures and facial expression. She is a diamond who deserves much more attention, world-wide!
Unfortunately not in the same league on the first evening: Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja as Jacopo Foscari, the Doge’s son. He presented a shining timbre in the middle range, and a very strong voice. However, it lacked colours and expression. Every aria sounded the same, no matter whether he expressed sadness, love, or anger – loud, emotionless, and monotone. At the beginning, he had difficult moments, when the voice sounded as if it would completely break on some high notes. He recovered from that, but the rest of the performance did not convince me at all. He stood there like a lonely tree, not even trying to interact, or communicate with his “beloved father, and his beloved wife”. For me, it was incomprehensible why a few critics raved about his “Pavarotti-like beautiful performance” after the first evening. On the second evening he was in much better shape. His voice was more secure and he tried to interact with his colleagues. He even delivered some nice piano moments, but still was often too loud, and too unaffectionate for my taste.
Very strong was the singing of Jacopo Loredano, the Italian bass Roberto Tagliavini. He has a rich and strong very “black” voice. His facial expression also did a lot to transport the evilness of his character. Even though Loredano is “only” a comprimario role, he was very present and attracted one’s attention. Not less positive was the impression the singers of the minor roles made – all of them (Barbarigo: Bror Magnus Tødenes; Pisana: Marvic Monreal; Fante del Consiglio: Jamez McCorkle; Servo del Doge: Alessandro Abis) gave flawless and strong performances.
Another highlight of the evening: Michele Mariotti! He did a wonderful job as conductor. With a very strong feeling for Verdi, he was able to tenderly “force” the Mozarteum Orchestra to follow his path; he coaxed out beautifully sweet soft tones as well as impressively giant passages. Together, they painted a perfectly coloured Verdi portrait. Mariotti also cared a lot about the singers, breathed and felt with them, even though Calleja did not always respond to the conductor’s pledge for more softness and decrescendo.
The Philharmonia Chor Wien (Walter Zeh, chorus master) completed the evening with a very good performance.
The second performance (14th of August) turned out to be the better one. All singers were less nervous, and more relaxed. It was an overall wonderful evening with thunderous applause, and especially loud and ongoing cheering for “Father Foscari”.
Gabi Eder (Published on 15 August 2017)