OONY Performs Verdi’s I Due Foscari

But his sixth, I Due
, indicates a new direction: inwards. Taken from a verse drama by
Lord Byron, itís a piece with little action in it. The three principals are
not in opposition to each other ñ their antagonist is the ruthless
machinery of the Venetian state; the opera concerns what goes on in their
hearts, torn between love (of family, of country) and duty (to country, to
unjust laws). Verdi did not yet have the musical chops to develop such
internal conflicts, to create new layers for Italian opera ñ but thatís
where he wanted to go, and in time, opera followed. Foscari,
however, despite its wealth of melody, got kind of passed by. None of the
tunes are well known and the leading roles are perilous ñ you need three
big voices to pull the thing off.

In the history of Venice, a compleat oligarchy, the truly heroic figure is
Venice. But human beings are drawn to individuals, and when stories come down
to us from Venetian history, it is not state organs that elicit our sympathy.
We sympathize with the oppressed, and with the conspirators who tried to
disrupt the Venetian constitution ñ but Venice would not have become Venice
if they had succeeded. Francesco Foscari, the longest-serving Doge of Venice
(an almost powerless elected figurehead), after twice being refused
permission to retire, was forced out of office against his will. He had also
been forced to stand by when his son was wrongly accused of murder, tortured
and exiled for it. Thatís the story here: young Foscari complains (at the
top of his tenor lungs), his wife resents (even louder), the old man bewails
and, at last, drops dead.

Eve Queler chose Foscari (which she has presented a time or two
before) for Opera Orchestra of New Yorkís one hundredth concert, and it was
a joyful occasion on all counts. Venezuelan tenor Aquiles Machado, the
accused Jacopo Foscari, is a Venezuelan tenor who has honorably sung such
roles as Enzo at the Met. A little man with a big, brash voice of gleaming
metal, he filled the room and made everyone smile, but there was little
shading or subtlety. Jacopo should move us with his heartbreak not just his

He was very well matched by Julianna Di Giacomo as his wife, Lucrezia
Contarini, one of Verdiís hectic heroines, a dramatic coloratura like
Abigaille in Nabucco or Odabella in Attila. (The Metís
producing Attila for the first time in a year or two, and they
should keep her in mind.) Her voice, too, is huge and gleaming, and she has
the coloratura, though the instrument is not ideally supported at the top.
She had no troubles with strenuous Lucrezia, but she sang at only two levels,
loud and louder, and there was little sign that she had other colors to her
palette. Unless she learns how to characterize and how to manage soft
singing, her future as a Norma, Anna Bolena or Verdiís HÈlËne, the roles
she seems to crave, is uncertain. Both these singers earned, and received,
great enthusiasm.

The ovation of the evening, the performance that made people sigh as well
as scream, was for Paolo Gavanelliís Doge Francesco Foscari. His voice too
is large, a rich, bluff smoky baritone with heart to it, and a sense of
poetic phrasing. There were depths of feeling, of internal discussion, when
he sang of his heartbreak, and we seemed to be an audience for that genuine
discourse. It was easy to imagine him as Verdiís other tormented baritone
fathers, Rigoletto or Amonasro or Germont (which he has sung at the Met in
years past), and everyone present would be eager to hear him in such

As so often in Verdi, the baritone is the heart of this opera, and Queler
chose the right man to make a case for the work. She did as well with the
workís thrilling, attention-grabbing prelude and several background
choruses, though some of the orchestral work sounded a little scrappy. In any
case, as at all the better Queler evenings, we came away with a better notion
of the roots of the operatic canon, besides having made the acquaintance of
several little-known singers we look forward to encountering again.

John Yohalem

image_description=Giuseppe Verdi
product_title=Giuseppe Verdi: I Due Foscari
product_by=Opera Orchestra of New York, Carnegie Hall, 13 December 2007
product_id=Francesco Foscari: Paolo Gavanelli
Jacopo Foscari: Aquiles Machado
Lucrezia Contarini: Julianna Di Giacomo
Conducted by Eve Queler