Mediocre Singing In Weak Covent Garden Foscari

Review by: Robert Levine


Artistic Quality: 6

Sound Quality: 9

I due Foscari is Verdi’s other opera about a Doge, this one tricked into believing that his son is a murderer. Unlike Simon Boccanegra, our Doge here, Francesco Foscari, is not really a hero–he’s weak and gullible and past his sell-by date. The opera is not strong despite some fun, complex arias for Lucrezia, the wife of the accused Jacopo, who is always in a rage, a marvelous ensemble that ends the first scene of Act 3, and a quite touching scene for the regretful Doge near the end of the opera followed by his death scene. Verdi works with something like leitmotifs in this opera–a small tune is associated with each character–the most noticeable of which is the rushing string activity whenever Lucrezia shows up.

The production, from Covent Garden (it was first seen in Los Angeles), is by Thaddeus Strassberger and does little to bring the characters to life: there are plenty of hand-to-heart stances, lots of rushing about, and expressions of grief and rage, and Lucrezia, I believe, having (finally) gone mad, attempts to drown her young child while the Doge is singing his final aria of misery. (Verdi and his librettist would have been surprised by such an action.) Kevin Knight’s sets are oppressive and feature buildings that are falling down and seem as decrepit as our anti-hero Doge.

The singing is nothing to rave about. This is another foray in baritone-land by Placido Domingo, and it’s not bad. He’s in good voice for a man his age despite a weak bottom register and, truth be spoken, a voice that sounds simply like a tenor’s who has lost his top notes and decidedly not like a baritone’s. But he’s noble and dignified and acts up a storm of desolation. And he’s better than the others: As his son, Jacopo, Franceso Meli sings his lungs out but can’t bring truth to the character, even when he’s singing from a hanging cage (!), and soprano Maria Agresta, in a role that was written for Verdi’s (eventual) Lady Macbeth, sounds small-voiced and mumbly. Maurizio Muraro sings Loredano, the piece’s villain (it is he who frames Jacopo, though we never learn why he hates the whole family so much), and he’s underpowered.

Conductor Antonio Pappano leads the dark-tinted score brilliantly, making it a genuine precursor to Boccanegra, but even he can’t escape the oom-pah underpinnings. This was Verdi’s sixth opera, coming after the great-tune-every-minute Ernani, and it can’t really compare in quality. A truly fine performance can save it, proven by a 1977 CD set with Piero Cappuccilli, José Carreras, and Katia Ricciarelli on Philips, and even better, a 1957 CD set on Myto with Giangiacomo Guelfi and Leyla Gencer. For a DVD version, Renato Bruson is magnificent in 1988 from La Scala on Opus Arte.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Bruson/La Scala (Opus Arte)

  • Placido Domingo, Francesco Meli (tenor); Maria Agresta (soprano); Maurizio Muraro (baritone)
  • Orchestra & Chorus of the Royal Opera House, Antonio Pappano

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