I due Foscari, Royal Opera, ROH, Covent Garden, October 2014Posted on 15 October 2014
Revenge is a dish best eaten cold, and at the end of this opera, Loredano, one of the Venetian decemviri (ten men who govern Venice) gladly consumes the knowledge that the two Foscari are dead. Noble men both, gone to their graves in agony.
Placido Domingo showed the anguish of the elder Foscari — Doge of Venice — from the first moments of his appearance when he sings O vecchio cor, que batti (Oh ancient heart that beats), giving a beautifully sympathetic portrayal that grew to a noble ending in facing down Loredano during the last moments of the opera. As his son Jacopo, Francesco Meli was a marvel of glorious singing. His Act I arias took the stage by storm, and in Act II his embrace of his father (Nel tuo paterno amplesso), and his agonised responses at the prospect of exile and loss of his children were riveting. As his wife Lucrezia, Maria Agresta sang with convincingly earnest emotion, if a lack of beauty in parts, and her duets with her husband and the Doge were wonderful. Maurizio Muraro made a solidly implacable Loredano, and if there was a lack of vocal menace it was all there in the staging.
This co-production with Los Angeles Opera (where it was shown first), Sofía, Valencia and Vienna shows Loredano as a very nasty piece of work indeed. In Act II he gives a spiteful shove to one the Doge’s grandchildren, and is happily present at torture sessions, in one of which he chops off the finger of a young woman. Cages containing prisoners are raised and lowered, and ropes from the rafters are occasionally used to hang people, in one case by a single elbow. It’s brutal stuff, but then this is fifteenth century Venice, with a story based on historical fact.
Yet there is fun too, and the carnival atmosphere with jugglers for the regatta at the start of Act III makes an entertaining spectacle. This production by American director Thaddeus Strassberger with wonderful sets and lighting by Kevin Knight and Bruno Poet, uses clever choreography with raised platforms to emphasise the sense of entrapment caused by the legal clarity yet opaque workings of the governing system. Costumes by Mattie Ullrich reflect the time of the real characters, with glorious red robes for the decemviri, providing a stage spectacle to gladden the eye without confusing intellectual abstractions.
And if this 1844 Verdi opera lacks the compelling drama of his later works, partly due to its being based on a Byron poem rather than a stage play, Verdi did his best to turn it into theatre, and the gripping music, brilliantly conducted here by Antonio Pappano, helps recreate the darkness of the original.
Performances continue on various dates until November 2, including a live relay on October 27, and there will be a BBC Radio 3 broadcast on November 3 — for details click here.