Surveillance Society: I due Foscari at the Theater Bonn

Verdi – I due Foscari

Francesco Foscari – Lucio Gallo
Jacopo Foscari – Felipe Rojas Velozo
Lucrezia Contarini – Anna Princeva
Jacopo Loredano – Leonard Bernad
Barbarigo – Christian Georg
Pisana – Ava Gesell
Fante del Consiglio dei Dieci – Lee Jeongmyeong
Servo del Doge – Nicholas Probst

Extrachor des Theater Bonn, Chor des Theater Bonn, Beethoven Orchester Bonn / Will Humburg.
Stage director – Philipp Kochheim.

Theater Bonn, Bonn, Germany.  Sunday, May 6th, 2018.

Tonight marked my first visit to the Theater Bonn.  It’s an attractive venue with comfortable seats, good sightlines and is home to an excellent orchestra.  Seat prices are reasonable, the acoustic is warm and clear, and the welcome cordial.  With a beautiful riverside terrace overlooking the Rhine, it certainly makes for an agreeable place to see a show.  Tonight also marked another first – my first live Due Foscari.  It’s a work undergoing something of a renaissance right now, thanks to the advocacy of a certain Spanish former tenor.  It’s a terrific romp, with a score that abounds in memorable musical ideas, and is a great showcase for the principal soprano, tenor and baritone.

Photo: © Thilo Beu

Philipp Kochheim’s staging played the action in what appeared to be the 1980s.  Security cameras were a constant presence on the adaptable set (Piero Vinciguerra), their red lights visible, even in the distant darkness at the back of the stage, suggesting that nothing was ever unseen.  Interesting also how in the council chamber a mechanical tape recorder was seen whirring at the back, suggesting that even conversations were recorded.  It struck me that Kochheim was aiming at portraying this society as a dictatorship, in which the Doge headed the surveillance society.  As the evening ended, we saw the council chamber in ruins, the tape had stopped whirring, and there were hints that Foscari senior’s power was ultimately linked to the surveillance. The sight of Loredano’s face looking in on Jacopo’s private musings in prison in Act 2 Scene 1 suggested something more dangerous or threatening, but I didn’t feel it was carried through.  There was also an over-reliance on stock operatic gestures – much descending onto one knee or standing and delivering to the front.  There was also some furniture abuse to inject drama as well as smashing a bottle against the wall.  Still, it looked good, we did get a sense of the relations between the characters and it was an effective framework for the action, even if perhaps it ultimately felt not quite completely convincing.

Photo: © Thilo Beu

Lucio Gallo brought a lifetime of experience to Francesco Foscari.  His native diction gave a great deal of pleasure.  Unfortunately, the vibrations loosened long ago in his baritone and the tone is now arid and leathery.  He got through the evening through his experience and he found tenderness in his relationship with his son and daughter in law.  Felipe Rojas Velozo was an admirable Jacopo.  The sound has Latin warmth and the text was always clear.  Sadly, the tone was very tight, with the legato patchy and aspirated, although he bravely ornamented his opening cabaletta.  He usually got to the notes he was aiming for even if the tuning wasn’t always accurate.  It was a valiant performance and certainly loud – as indeed was the ovation he received from the public at the curtain calls.  Leonard Bernad brought his extremely handsome bass to the role of Loredano.  The voice warm and velvety, is already a good size – and will surely grow even further.

Photo: © Thilo Beu

Anna Princeva was a very exciting Lucrezia.  Her soprano has the familiar Slavic qualities of a juicy exterior with a metal core.  Princeva commanded the stage from her very first entry, ornamenting her opening cabaletta with almost nonchalant ease.  Her Lucrezia was a determined lover, not afraid to stand up for herself and, in her final number, also gave us some ravishing soft singing, pulling the tone down to a silvery thread, yet never losing the core.  A notable talent.

Photo: © Thilo Beu

The remaining roles were honourably taken, in particular the attractive tenor of Lee Jeongmyeong.  The chorus took a little while to settle, a few individual voices sticking out in the opening scene in the gentlemen and the ladies took a little while to agree on the pitches they were aiming for.  They did warm up nicely and gave us some singing of rounded, warm tone.  The orchestra was excellent and clearly a major asset to the house.  The string sound warm and rich, the solo clarinet, in particular, playing with improvisatory beauty.  Will Humburg led a reading that fizzled along nicely.  Tempi were nicely swift, although the deep pile carpet of string sound meant that I did wish that attack had been slightly crisper.

Photo: © Thilo Beu

There was much to admire in tonight’s performance.  The sound of that superb band and Princeva’s Lucrezia, especially, really a credit to the house.  The production was also intelligent and unobtrusive.  It brought a fluency and clarity to the storytelling that was most admirable.  Yes, some of the singing was a bit rough and ready but, overall, this was an enjoyable evening in the theatre.

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