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VERDI: I Due Foscari

spacer Vitale, Pellegrino; Bergonzi, Bersieri, Bertocci, G. Guelfi, Lombardo, G. Barbieri; Symphony Orchestra and Chorus of RAI Milano, Giulini. Warner Fonit Cetra 2564 661434 (2)

Irresistible Attraction

Verdi's early opera I Due Foscari proves to be exceptionally invigorating in Cetra's 1951 recording, led with authority by Carlo Maria Giulini.

FoscariCd

Although trail-blazing in the early 1950s, most of Cetra's series of Verdi operas seems rather rough and unready when compared with later recordings. Two of Verdi's earlier works, however, hold up well in their Cetra versions — his second opera, Un Giorno di Regno (Pagliughi, Bruscantini, Capecchi), and his sixth, I Due Foscari, recorded live in 1951.

Foscari suffers from Francesco Maria Piave's weak libretto. The aging Doge of Venice, Francesco Foscari, spends most of the opera lamenting his inability to save his son Jacopo from being permanently exiled by the Council of Ten. Jacopo himself doesn't do much more than lament, either. His wife, Lucrezia, rages constantly against the injustice suffered by her husband. Jacopo dies aboard ship as he's leaving Venice, and Francesco has only just gotten that news when the Council demands his resignation. Moments later he, too, dies. 

Much of the time the one-dimensionality of the characterizations is redeemed by the irresistibility of Verdi's music. Julian Budden rightly cited "a note of intimacy not to be encountered again until Luisa Miller." At the same time, there's more than enough of the astonishing vitality and rhythmic drive that so distinguish the early Verdi operas.

Heard here as the Doge is Giangiacomo Guelfi, who could generally be counted on for staggering vocal power at the expense of subtlety. On this occasion, it's a pleasure to find him (perhaps under pressure from the performance's exacting conductor) singing with greater restraint than usual , to his portrayal's immeasurable advantage. The broadness and amplitude of his sound are there whenever needed, as in Francesco's deeply stirring final aria .

Cetra's Lucrezia is Maria Vitale, a genuine Italian dramatic soprano. In addition to the necessary flexibility, this voice shows terrific bite and thrust from bottom (a pungent chest register) to top of a wide range . The ultimate in finesse may not always be hers, but Vitale's magnificent boldness of attack and sheer conviction help her to make the most of one of Verdi's most formidable heroines.

Ex-baritone Carlo Bergonzi (Jacopo), heard during his first year as a tenor, offers much treasurable beauty of tone while reveling in his innate gift for shaping Verdi's legato to apt expressive purposes. More overtly emotional than in much of his later work (though never excessively so), Bergonzi manages to communicate a passion and sheer appeal well beyond what one would have expected in this role.

The comprimari have little to do, with the exception of the treacherous councillor Loredano, unimpressively sung by Pasquale Lombardo. The RAI Milano chorus and orchestra thrive under Carlo Maria Giulini . From the brief but electrifying prelude to Francesco's death in the final bars , Giulini is in complete control. Having made his debut in opera only a year before, he already knew how to support the principals with maximum sensitivity. He also produces an incisiveness to enliven many accompaniments that in less skilled hands would emerge as mere "oom-pah-pah." Some regrettable cuts are observed — hardly surprising in that era of Verdi performance. 

Cetra's booklet contains only a track list and synopsis. The Philips studio recording has the virtues of completeness, the great Piero Cappuccilli as Francesco and, of course, far superior sound. Nonetheless, any Verdian will relish Cetra's Foscari, still exceptionally invigorating after more than six decades. spacer 

ROGER PINES

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Current Issue: September 2014 — VOL. 79, NO. 3