Opera aficionados often claim that story comes in third, behind music and singing, in the pecking order of priorities for enjoying the art form. If you share that belief, then Verdi’s rarely seen I Due Foscari (The Two Foscari) will mostly satisfy in LA Opera’s new production.
The story, such as it is, follows Jacopo Foscari (Franceso Meli) who is imprisoned for a crime he may or may not have committed. Though his father Franceso (Plácido Domingo) is the powerful Doge of Venice, he’s unable or unwilling to help his only surviving son, infuriating Jacopo’s wife, Lucrezia (Marina Poplavskaya). The entire opera revolves around the fate of Jacopo and Francesco (hence the title), but almost nothing – except for a lot of weeping and gnashing of teeth -- happens in the first two acts then everything is suddenly wrapped up in a short third act.
Verdi’s better-known operas like La Traviata, Otello, and Aida are in no danger of being performed less often after the revival of I Due Foscari, which was last performed in Chicago 40 years ago. The story isn’t terribly compelling (as evidenced by numerous walkouts at the end of the second act), and it isn’t his finest music. But what those walkouts missed in the third act was a powerful performance by Mr. Domingo. Confronted with rivals trying to unseat him as Doge, he movingly and powerfully performed Francesco’s climactic aria. Mr. Meli was fine as Jacopo but paled in comparison to Ms. Poplavskaya who shone as his heartbroken and angry wife. Rarely have I heard such beautiful and rounded tones from a soprano. Her performance was so gorgeous, I was sorry she didn’t have more to do. Every moment she was on stage was breathtaking.
Director Thaddeus Strassberger has chosen to tell this dark story on a dark set without the slightest hint of light or contrast. As a result, the experience feels claustrophobic and somewhat monotonous. His use of rising and falling cages at first appears intriguing, but ultimately becomes redundant. Once again conductor James Conlon and the LA Opera Orchestra do a wonderful job.
I’m not an enormous fan of this opera, but the performances by Mr. Domingo and Ms. Poplavskaya make I Due Foscari a must-see.
[Photo by Robert Millard/LA Opera]