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Verdi: I Due Foscari

Verdi / Guelfi / Bergonzi / Bertocci
Release Date: 11/13/2012 
Label:  Cetra   Catalog #: 661434   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Giuseppe Verdi
Performer:  Pasquale LombardoMaria VitaleCarlo BergonziGiangiacomo Guelfi,   ... 
Conductor:  Carlo Maria Giulini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Italian Radio Symphony Orchestra MilanItalian Radio Chorus Milan
Number of Discs: 2 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

VERDI I due Foscari Carlo Maria Giulini, cond; Maria Vitale ( Lucrezia Contarini ); Carlo Bergonzi ( Jacopo Foscari ); Gian Giacomo Guelfi ( Francesco Foscari ); RAI Milan Ch & O WARNER 2564 66143-4, mono (2 CDs: 98:25)

I’m not really sure why, but I due Foscari is the early Read more Verdi opera for which I have an inordinate fondness. In terms of its plot, it’s kind of a trial run for Simon Boccanegra , albeit without the major roles for a basso nemesis and chorus that give the latter so much depth and complexity. In terms of its score, Verdi bangs out a lot of energetic rum-te-tum tunes with coloratura fireworks that, if not exactly great music, are at every turn atmospheric, engaging, and compelling. Like Bob Rose, I agree with our fellow Fanfare critic Henry Fogel, who stated in an early review (not yet in the Fanfare Archive): “Repeated rehearings have persuaded me that it stands near the top of Verdi’s early operas, deserving of much more attention that it has received.”

This set is a parsimonious reissue of a previous release from back in 2000, which in turn was an issue of an RAI 1982 remastering (the cover of that LP set is reproduced on the back of this set’s booklet) of the original 1951 broadcast performance. The complete Italian language libretto, supplemental essay, and virtually all of the illustrations from the booklet from 2000 have been dropped, leaving only the cast list, track titles and timings, plot summary, and list of other Verdi opera sets in this Fonit-Cetra series. No new remastering has been done here.

Back in 13:2 Marc Mandel gave a very detailed and helpful review of a previous release of this performance on the Nuova Era label. Not having either perfect pitch or a copy of that release, I can’t be sure, but I presume (or hope) that this issue from the original source does not have the pitch problems Mandel noted on the bootleg Nuova Era release. Alas, nothing can be done about the numerous and grievous cuts inflicted on the score that Mandel also listed. Still, it is one of the better renditions this opera has received. Carlo Bergonzi, in his first outing as a tenor after initially training as a baritone, is quite simply the best Jacopo on disc, already the impeccably tasteful and technically assured artist he would be throughout his long and stellar career. As Francesco, Gian Giacomo Guelfi wields a potent if sometimes coarse and overly hard-driven baritone to suitably agonized effect. Maria Vitale is somewhat weaker. Like Guelfi she too has a potent voice more suited to the verismo repertoire than to Verdi; her timbre is a bit metallic, her coloratura work somewhat labored, and her intonation strays on some higher notes. That said, she is still a spirited and passionate Lucrezia, more of an asset than a liability. Carlo Maria Giulini has the truncated score well in hand, leading all the forces with verve and pointed rhythmic drive.

For those seeking an uncut version in modern sound, the Philips set with Katia Ricciarelli, José Carreras, Piero Cappuccilli, and conductor Lamberto Gardelli is the default choice. While much superior to the limited competition, I have little enthusiasm for it; Cappuccilli (a highly overrated singer in my view) has an unsteady and rather gray voice, Ricciarelli shows signs of strain, Carreras offers a generic rather than heartfelt characterization, and it is all too evident that everyone learned his or her part for a studio run-through. The other alternatives (virtually all of them reviewed in these pages at various times by Henry Fogel, Marc Mandel, James Miller, Bob Rose, and Raymond Tuttle; see the Fanfare Archive) almost all suffer from intolerably inept casting in at least one of the three principal roles, usually the soprano or tenor. The one exception (and the only one apparently not previously reviewed in these pages) is a live performance issued by Myto from the Teatro La Fenice in Venice on December 31, 1957, with Guelfi, Leyla Gencer, Mirto Picchi, and Tulio Serafin. (The second CD is filled out with excerpts from a December 13, 1957, performance of Lucia di Lammermoor with Gencer and Giacinto Prandelli, conducted by Oliviero de Fabritiis.) Guelfi is much the same as he was for Giulini seven years before; Gencer is for my money the best Lucrezia on CD; and Picchi is a capable Jacopo, who suffers somewhat by comparison to Bergonzi but is equal or superior to all other rivals. Serafin’s conducting is solid, if a notch below Guilini’s for dramatic tautness. Unfortunately, while in slightly better sound than the Giulini version, it is afflicted with virtually all of the same cuts. A further if more minor annoyance is that the table of contents in the bare-bones booklet botches the track listings on both discs in the set, omitting some tracks and misnumbering others accordingly. On DVD, a surprisingly fine alternative is the recently issued performance from the Teatro Regia di Parma conducted by Donato Renzetti, with Tatiana Serjan as a superlative Lucrezia, Roberto de Biasio an unexpectedly fine Jacopo, and Leo Nucci at age 67 a still compelling if somewhat vocally worn Francesco. (I will be reviewing this performance as part of the 27 Blu-ray disc Tutto Verdi set in an upcoming issue.) While I due Foscari still lacks the absolutely first-rate recording it deserves, among the available alternatives, this set and that with Serafin, despite disfiguring cuts and sonic limitations, still provide the most exciting singing, and are recommended accordingly.

FANFARE: James A. Altena
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Works on This Recording

I due Foscari by Giuseppe Verdi
Performer:  Pasquale Lombardo (Bass), Maria Vitale (Soprano), Carlo Bergonzi (Tenor),
Giangiacomo Guelfi (Baritone), Mario Bersieri (Tenor), Liliana Pellegrino (Mezzo Soprano),
Aldo Bertocci (Tenor), Gianni Barbieri (Bass)
Conductor:  Carlo Maria Giulini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Italian Radio Symphony Orchestra Milan,  Italian Radio Chorus Milan
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1844; Italy 
Language: Italian 

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