It was a beautiful sunny day in Milano, and sitting on the rooftop terrasse of La Rinascente, sipping pre-opera espresso and watching the sun setting over the picturesque city, excitement was gradually increasing before going to see the live performance of the newest production by Alvis Hermanis at La Scala. I should admit, that it was that rare case when I have been impatient enough to get a sneak peak of the prima live-streamed on Servus TV almost a month ago, starring Placido Domingo. Thus, there were no expectations of emotional revelations, and I was preparing myself to savour details of sets and staging and discover two entirely new names for me – Luca Salsi and Anna Pirozzi.
One of the first impressions, arriving at the theatre, was an unusual mix of languages heard, – Latvian and Russian speech could be well heard among traditional Italian and English, some familiar faces were noticed among the audience. It seems like thanks to Alvis Hermanis, and great effort by Jegors Jerohomovics from Latvian newspaper Diena, the interest to see results of the collective endeavour of the exceptional team has reached a certain point. Now almost everyone in Latvia who considers oneself being associated with cultural or theatrical world takes the trip as true believer wherever it is – Salzburg, Paris, Milan or Munich.
The libretto of I Due Foscari is based on the historical play The Two Foscari by Lord Byron. Verdi has put his focus on interpersonal studies rather than an exploration of societal problems. The main protagonist, The Doge of Venice, Francesco Foscari is torn between paternal love and official duty when his son Jacopo is condemned for murder by The Council of Ten. Jacopo’s wife Lucrezia is convinced of his innocence. They both are helpless even when real murderer’s confession arrives as Jacopo has already died on his way to exile. The Council of Ten demands the resignation of The Doge, and his heart breaks with the announcement of the successor.
Interesting to mention, that revival of the opera has been initiated by Placido Domingo as a vehicle to prolong his active scenic life by switching over to baritonal roles, and a role of Francesco Foscari certainly suits his stage personality perfectly well. Since first performance of the role in 2012 in Los Angeles, Placido Domingo has carried the role to London, Barcelona and now also Milan, supported by Francesco Meli as his son Jacopo throughout the whole journey.
My first introduction to “I Due Foscari“ was production by Thaddeus Strassberger in Royal Opera House with Placido Domingo and Francesco Meli a few years ago, where Maria Agresta performed Lucrezia. The production was intense in contrasting colours, mainly red and black, and focusing mostly on political and societal aspects of the tragedy, emphasising decay and corruption of the city of Venice. One of the most lasting impressions from that production is gripping tension and dynamic acting of the cast on stage.
The visual impression of set design by Alvis Hermanis did not surprise, as he uses already the well-tested solution of painted panels and video projections. What pleasantly surprises is the intelligent and smart use of the colours and lights, recreating that unique atmosphere of Venice as per libretto where “bright light of the day is emphasized by the mirror of the lagoon”. Background paintings and moving sculptures transport the audience almost 6 centuries back, and gives an opportunity to immerse into life of Venetian aristocracy of the time. The production is a visual pleasure, where all movements by the chorus, extras and dancers blend into harmonious painting. Special mention must go for Kristīne Jurjāne, as she not only designed, but also coordinated production of all costumes in Latvia. Overall set design and costumes are the main driving force of the production, as the movement of main protagonists on the stage is relatively limited – similar to other productions by Hermanis, where singers have the opportunity to do what they do the best – create a portrayal of their characters by vocal technique.
The cast for La Scala production includes new Lucrezia – young Neapolitan soprano Anna Pirozzi, who came into the spotlight as an ad-hoc replacement as Abigaille in “Nabucco” conducted by Ricardo Mutti in Salzburg in 2013. Unfortunately, Pirozzi was my only disappointment of the evening, as she proved to be the weakest part of the cast. Her breath seemed short compared to Salsi or Meli and her top notes were apparently forced and not always clear,- probably the tessitura of the role is not the best fit or her maturity as dramatic soprano has not yet reached the requirements for singing Lucrezia. Anna Pirozzi was doing comparatively better in ensembles and finales rather than in her individual arias. Listening to her recordings available, I hope she will grow into impressive dramatic soprano relatively soon, as potential obviously is here.
Francesco Meli as Jacopo Foscari delivered stellar performance; also, his acting skills have improved considerably. This is, at least, 5th time I have seen him in live performance, and I can confidently confirm that his stage presence has grown tremendously during last few years. He is certainly one of the most interesting tenors currently, and doubtlessly one of the top Italian “tenores”. His voice is rich, with pleasant sweet timbre and ability to soar easily over the orchestra, confidently reaching for high notes, and gradually developing ability to sing pianissimo. Thunderous applause and “Bravi!” at curtain call were well deserved!
Luca Salsi was one of the main intrigues of the night, as somehow I have not happened to see him either in Verona, The Met or Munich. It was his second performance of the role in this production, alternating with Placido Domingo. As I have seen now both interpretations of the protagonists, then the only shortcoming of Salsi is his actual age, which still is noticeable through masterful stage makeup – and even despite it, he managed to portray the unresolvable conflict between father and politician which leads to inevitable death – by heartbreak or murder. Luca Salsi has very pleasant, full timbre, and a volume that can easily fill the house of much larger size, thus it is not surprising that he has been noticed by The Met. The audience greeted him enthusiastically during the curtain call, and I have identified another artist whose name is worth to follow for future performances.
As the additional flavour of the evening, which I learned only the next morning, was that he had a birthday – and Michele Mariotti gave him the baton of the night as the special present – the picture of the fact you can find on Facebook.
Michele Mariotti, a charismatic and energetic conductor, led the orchestra with confidence and skill, achieving well-balanced sound and supporting the singers well.
For those, who have not seen the live stream, there is a chance to see it while content is available through this link:
Summing all up, it has been inspiring and valuable trip to Milan, discovering new names, learning more about the opera I Due Foscari, and reconfirming that Verdi still tops the list of my favorite opera composers. Now looking forward to Strauss weekend in Berlin, – and eager to learn many more!
Giuseppe Verdi. I Due Foscari.
Teatro alla Scala Chorus and Orchestra
Conductor Michele Mariotti
Staging and sets Alvis Hermanis
Costumes Kristīne Jurjāne
Lights Gleb Filshtinsky
Choreography Alla Sigalova
Video Ineta Sipunova
Dramatist Olivier Lexa
Francesco Foscari Luca Salsi
Jacopo Foscari Francesco Meli
Lucrezia Contarini Anna Pirozzi
Jacopo Loredano Andrea Concetti
Barbarigo Edoardo Milletti
Pisana Chiara Isotton
Foot soldier Azer Rza-Zade
Servant Till Von Orlowsky