Review – Il due Foscari (Royal Opera House Live, Monday 27 October 2014)
Francesco Foscari – Plácido Domingo
Jacopo Foscari – Francesco Meli
Lucrezia Contarini – Maria Agresta
Jacopo Loredano – Maurizio Muraro
Barbarigo – Samuel Sakker
Pisana – Rachel Kelly
Fante – Lee Hickenbottom
Director – Thaddeus Strassberger
Set Designs – Kevin Knight
Costume Designs – Mattie Ullrich
Lighting Design – Bruno Poet
Royal Opera House Chorus
Renato Balsadonna (Chorus Director)
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
Antonio Pappano (Conductor)
While you can’t fault Domingo’s commitment in the role of Francesco Foscari, I am still unconvinced – after I due Foscari – of his aspirations as a baritone.
There, I said it.
In terms of characterization, he has – as he said in the interval interview snippets with Pappano – a whole career of singing tenor roles, seeing these characters from a different perspective, which enables to him bring real depth and insight when playing these roles. And his Francesco, in terms of stage presence – and even real tears I would hazard – was compelling. Domingo caught almost to perfection the conflict of Doge and father and at the end, of a man defeated by both cruel fate and age.
But vocally it was a different manner. As with his recital of Verdi arias for baritone released last year, it wasn’t that his performance wasn’t musical. It was. Each and every phrase beautifully crafted and intelligently sung. What was missing wasn’t so much heft – although there were times when he seemed lost amid the other singers and the orchestra – but timbre and resonance. Of authority. And yet ultimately of course, it didn’t matter. The musicianship, the characterization overcame the vocal limitations.
However of the two other main cast members, there was no sense of any limitation. Maria Agresta as Lucrezia Contarini – was simply magnificent. She didn’t so much tackle the vocal demands of the role as dominated them. Her soprano – with an appealing hard edge when she chose to deploy it – gleamed and shone in Verdi’s music. Vocally impressive as she was when full of fury or castigating her peers or in her formidable duet with her father in law, it was in the more tender moments that she demonstrated that she is a true Verdi soprano. Her preghiera – Tu al chi sguardo onnipossente – was achingly sung and during the duet with her husband in the Second Act, time itself seemed to stand still. It was an incredible debut at Covent Garden and while I admit that I very rarely travel abroad for Verdi, for Maria Agresta I will be booking flights and hotels.
As her husband, Francesco Meli was as impressive. One criticism I often have of tenors in this repertoire is that they cannot always find the shade – as well as the light – in their singing. Not so with Signor Meli. From his opening aria until his final ‘addio’, he delivered a performance that was both beautifully nuanced and totally committed.
It’s a shame that these three characters dominated I due Foscari but all the smaller roles – led by the Jacopo Loredano of Maurizio Muraro contributed to a vocally strong evening.
In the pit, Pappano demonstrated impeccable Verdian credentials. He seemed to be conducting as if his life depended on it. But as well as the brute force the Verdi wrote into the score from the beginning, Pappano ensured that the Royal Opera House Orchestra found the right tinta for the more intimate moments of the opera. And similarly, the chorus delivered their usual high standards of precision and passionate singing.
Together with Glare – which I will be seeing in a few weeks – this was Thaddeus Strassberger’s debut at Covent Garden. His CV is impressive and on the whole, his vision for this opera was impressive. He did capture – together with Kevin Knight – not only the darker side of Venice, but any one who has been there – as I have – will have smiled when the flood-boards made an appearance. However it was a shame that Strassberger resorted to a hackney’d device for no reason that I could – pardon the pun – fathom. From her first appearance, Lucrezia Contarini isn’t so much determined to prove her husband’s innocence, but rather would rather see him die that have him exiled. Then why, when he is dead, does she go mad and then drown her (eldest) son in a puddle. Seeing this proud and brave woman reduced to insanity, didn’t add to the tragedy, but deflected from it unnecessarily. It was almost as if – having avoid cliché from the start – Strassberger felt obliged to throw one in at the end.
I hope that when it returns – and with any luck alongside Herheim’s Les Vêpres Siciliennes – that Maria Agresta and Francesco Meli will return along with a true baritone.
However, as with my ever-so-slight reservations of Domingo’s baritonal aspirations, the slightly marred ending did nothing to reduce my overall enjoyment of this production.