Sunday December 17, 2017 9:48 am

living legend




LA Opera opened its 2012-13 season to an audibly enthusiastic full house September 15 with a new production of another belatedly acknowledged Verdi masterpiece. Opera connoisseurs agree that among Verdi’s neglected early works (Foscari is sixth), The Two Foscari is most deserving of that second good look that eventually leads to revival as a fully staged opera.

Opinions may vary as to the work’s musical and dramatic strengths just as they did with respect to Simon Bocanegra, another of Verdi’s initially failed masterpieces, which the composer completed more than a decade after Foscari. The title role of Bocanegra was the vehicle for Plácido Domingo’s incarnation as a baritone, a role he sung with LA Opera in February 2012. Simon Bocanegra has of course experienced a redemption, having seen several productions since the 1990s (when Domingo was singing the lesser tenor role of Gabriele Adorno). With Domingo’s assumption of the title role, it now appears to be making major headway into becoming part of the standard operatic repertoire.

Whether the same fate awaits The Two Foscari of course remains to be seen, although it is likely with Domingo’s star billing. This LA Opera production is the first in 40 years–it was last produced as a fully staged opera in 1972 as the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s season opener, and has since been offered on occasion only as a concert performance. This Foscari, directed by Thaddeus Strassberger, the young American winner of the European Opera Directing Prize in 2005, is a masterful production, as evident in the LA Opera video below.

The opera, with libretto by Francesco Maria Piave, is based on the play The Two Foscari by Lord Byron. As in Simon Bocanegra and Verdi’s other grand operas, the plot juxtaposes personal conflicts with political intrigues. Set in 15th-century Venice, Foscari tells the tale of the historical figure Francesco Foscari, Venice’s Doge or head of state and his failed struggle to untangle himself from the web of secret plots and vindictive rivalries in which he is trapped, and a system of justice over which he has no control that unjustly convicts his son Jacopo of treasonous and heinous crimes he did not commit.

We came to Season Opening Night fully knowing what to expect only of the legendary Plácido Domingo. In his second baritone role as another ill-fated Doge, this time of 15th century Venice, it was safe to assume that Domingo’s Foscari would be as stellar as his Bocanegra. Needless to say, he did not disappoint; and that would have been enough for an enjoyable evening at the opera.

Totally unexpected in this first installment of LA Opera’s celebration of Domingo and his trio of 2012 milestones was the trio of world class voices–Domingo’s and the awesome voices of Italian tenor Francesco Meli in his LA Opera debut as the unjustly convicted young Foscari and Russian soprano Marina Povlavskaya as his wife, Lucrezia Contarini, in her second appearance with LA Opera (following her 2009 portrayal of Violetta in La Traviata).

Theirs were young voices that projected effortlessly throughout the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion’s acoustically less-than-perfect hall, dominant but not overpowering, with a refreshing lyrical quality that enhanced their portrayals of Verdi’s otherwise dramatic roles. These are definitely among the vocally and theatrically gifted young singers that the celebrated mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade had in mind when in an interview with FanFaire a few years back she envisioned, with uncontainable optimism, exciting times ahead because there are today great, magnificent young voices that could set off a new golden age in opera.

And thus it was that 2012 Season Opening Night unexpectedly became a triply enjoyable experience–because it was a celebration of the past (Domingo’s life and times), the present (Domingo’s rebirth as a baritone in his 140th role), and the future (of opera as foreshadowed by Meli’s and Povlavskaya’s awesome, young golden voices)!
© Gloria Cajipe / FanFaire

The Two Foscari performances:

Saturday, September 15, 2012, at 7:30pm
Thursday, September 20, 2012, at 7:30pm
Sunday, September 23, 2012, at 2pm
Saturday, September 29, 2012, at 7:30pm
Sunday, October 7, 2012, at 2pm
Tuesday, October 9, 2012, at 7:30pm