|The Two Foscari|
by Willard Manus
Thrilling music and singing made Los Angeles Opera's recent production of Verdi's THE TWO FOSCARI the triumph it was. Written in 1844, the opera has been mounted only sporadically since then--mostly in concert performances--but thanks to L.A. Opera and director Thaddeus Strassburger the work's power and beauty have been brought to enthralling life again.
A dark, somber tale dealing with the theme of man vs. power, THE TWO FOSCARI centers on Jacopo Foscari (the fiery Francesco Meli), a young nobleman who has spent time in jail on a charge trumped up by The Council of Ten. This fearsome clique, led by Jacopo Loredano (Levgen Orlov), are inquisitors who rule Venice's shaky regime by intimidation and corruption. Foscari's father, the Doge himself (played by the remarkable Placido Domingo), is no match for them, weakened as he is by age and timidity.
The libretto by Francesco Maria Piave (adapted from Lord Byron's historical drama) opens with a glimpse of Foscari in his cell--a cage suspended from the ceiling by iron chains. The hellish setting (by Kevin Knight) is an apt place for the life and death struggle that follows. Foscari's wife (the dynamic Marina Poplavskaya) fights valiantly to persuade the Doge to stand up to the Council. When he declines, pleading powerlessness in the face of the dictates of justice and duty, she goes to her knees before Loredano and begs him for mercy (in one of the opera's many heart-rending arias). Needless to say, she is rebuffed and left a broken and bitter woman.
THE TWO FOSCARI has dramaturgical problems: instead of a hard-driving, ever-unfolding narrative, the opera is comprised mostly of two-character confrontation scenes which tend to repeat themselves. But Verdi's impassioned score and the magnificent singing of Domingo, Meli, Poplavskaya and Orlov (backed up the splendid L.A. Opera Chorus) helped this production to achieve genuine tragic grandeur.