I Due Foscari (DVD)
Plácido Domingo, Francesco Meli, Anna Pirozzi; Chorus and Orchestra of La Scala/Michele Mariotti; dir. Alvis Hermanis (Milan, 2016)
C Major DVD: 742008; Blu-ray: 742104
Just four years after its 1844 premiere, Verdi described this early opera as ‘a funeral with too uniform an atmosphere and colour from beginning to end’. There is some justification for this criticism: the opera presents a single dramatic situation that worsens rather than alters over the course of its three acts. Nevertheless it offers central roles with considerable potential, notably that of the elder of the two Foscari of the title – the Venetian doge unable to save his son from exile and himself from humiliating dismissal.
As is clear from a 15-minute bonus feature in which Plácido Domingo, his fellow cast members and director Alvis Hermanis are interviewed, the work has become a regular vehicle for the tenor-turned-baritone. Even if he still sounds like a tenor singing in his lower range rather than a true baritone, Domingo’s artistic commitment remains exceptional, and vocally this is a remarkable achievement at 75. The other main participants are also honourable. Francesco Meli plays the doge’s son Jacopo, returned from an unjust sentence of exile only to be exiled again and to die just as he leaves: he applies himself to the miserable role with lyrical conviction somewhat compromised by a hint of wobble. Anna Pirozzi has all the notes for the role of his indignant wife Lucrezia, if not an ideal degree of temperament.
Unfortunately, the principals as well as the chorus are made to look ridiculous by the artificial hand gestures with which director Hermanis attempts to enliven his cumbersome period production; but conductor Michele Mariotti’s dynamism certainly keeps the score effectively on the move.