Shadowy Forces: Marino Faliero from the Festival Donizetti Opera

Donizetti – Marino Faliero

Marino Faliero – Michele Pertusi
Israele – Bogdan Baciu
Fernando – Michele Angelini
Elena – Francesca Dotto
Steno – Christian Federici
Leoni – Dave Monaco
Irene – Anaïs Mejías
Un gondoliere – Giorgio Misseri
Beltrame – Stefano Gentili
Pietro – Diego Savini
Strozzi – Vassily Solodkyy
Vincenzo – Daniele Lettieri
Figli d’Israele – Enrico Pertile, Giovanni Dragano, Angelo Lodetti
Voce di dentro – Piermarco Viñas Mazzoleni

Coro Donizetti Opera, Orchestra Donizetti Opera / Riccardo Frizza.
Stage director – Stefano Ricci.  Video director – Arnalda Canali. 

Festival Donizetti Opera, Teatro Donizetti, Bergamo, Italy.  Friday, November 20th, 2020.  Streamed via the website of Festival Donizetti Opera.

This new production of Marino Faliero should have been the opening of both this year’s edition of the wonderful Festival Donizetti Opera, always a highlight of late fall, and of the full reopening of the Teatro Donizetti following its renovation.  Unfortunately, fate had another plan.  The festival had hoped to have been able to welcome an audience, but ultimately this wasn’t possible due to a national lockdown by the Italian Republic and instead, the Festival has gone ahead without an audience, but by broadcasting the scheduled operas on its website to its international public.

Photo: © Gianfranco Rota

Premiered at the Théâtre Italien in Paris in 1835, Marino Faliero was Donizetti’s breakthrough work in the French capital.  It’s rarely performed these days – and that’s a shame because there’s much wonderful music here.  There’s a big role for the bass, a tenor role that displays agility and stratospheric heights, and a commanding role for a lyric baritone.  The prima donna also has some quite meaty music to get her teeth into and there are some rousing choruses.  The tale of a love triangle between the Doge of Venice, Marino Faliero, his wife Elena, and his nephew, Fernando, the opera also abounds in political machinations, as one might expect.

Photo: © Gianfranco Rota

The staging at the Festival was entrusted to Stefano Ricci.  In order to respect the current sanitary situation, the action took place on a metallic structure made up of interlocking stairways taking up the platea, while the orchestra was situated where the pit usually is, and the chorus sang in rows on stage.  Monitors around the stage area allowed the singers to see Riccardo Frizza conducting.  A group of ‘performers’ added additional visual interest, as they seemingly impersonated conspirators, and in Act 3 were seen controlling the movements of the principals as if marionettes.  As Elena sang her big number ‘Dio clemente, ah mi perdona’, we could see the deceased Fernando being manipulated by the performers.  During the chorus ‘Lode a Leoni’, the chorus gyrated around the stairs for seemingly no more apparent reason than to give something to look at, given the chorus was singing from the other side of the room.  In the ball that closed Act 1, the ‘performers’ perambulated around the set in quite elaborate headwear, before seemingly having epileptic fits in the closing pages of the Act.  Arnalda Canali did well to capture it so efficiently for the small screen, but it was all extremely busy.  I did wonder if less would indeed have been more in this case.  It was certainly entertaining, it not a bit de trop.

Photo: © Gianfranco Rota

Michele Pertusi actually sang Marino at the house back in 2008 and the performances then were recorded for commercial release.  It would be wrong to say that the passage of time cannot be heard in his bass.  The sound is somewhat dry now and the voice spreads at fuller dynamics, so that intonation is troublesome, with the result that his contributions to the ensembles and duets did not always make for comfortable listening.  He still sang with great authority and savoured the text with delicacy, while also giving some dignified singing at lower dynamics.  Michele Angelini took on the phenomenally difficult assignment of Fernando with less than two weeks’ notice.  Some tentativeness in his opening scene could be forgiven, given the circumstances.  Once Angelini settled, he poured out streams of bright, well-focused tone and handled the extremely tricky passagework with aplomb, offering us a genuine trill in the process.  His final aria saw him ping out stratospheric acuti with ease.  It’s a role that sits well for his high-lying tenor and I hope that we’ll get another occasion to hear Angelini sing it with more notice.

Photo: © Gianfranco Rota

As his love interest, Francesca Dotto sang with commanding ease.  Hers is a very individual sound, quite tart in a way, but she has a well-schooled technique and sang with authority.  She gave unsparingly of herself, not only in her execution of the coloratura but in how she was able to pull the tone right back, floating with ease on high, and also demonstrated impressive breath control while spinning seemingly endless lines.  An impressive assumption, sung with thrilling abandon.  Impressive also the Romanian baritone Bogdan Baciu as Israele.  He has the ideal instrument for this music, a warm, resonant baritone with a sensitive legato and implicit understanding of the idiom.  It’s a very handsome sound, full of mahogany depth, and equally able to spin long lines.  Very occasionally, there was a tendency for aspirates to enter the tone but, make no mistake, Baciu gave notice of a very exciting new bel canto talent.

Photo: © Gianfranco Rota

The remaining roles were sung at the quality one would expect from the Festival.  A special mention for Dave Monaco who sang Leoni in a handsome tenor.  The Festival chorus sang with hearty tone with the ladies particularly well-blended.  Frizza conducted the Festival orchestra with a good sense of forward momentum, bringing out that typically Donizettian combination of long lines over pointed rhythms.  There was one moment where it felt that tension sagged, in the duet between Elena and Faliero in Act 3, otherwise Frizza kept things moving nicely and surprisingly managed to keep things together given the scattered nature of the cast in the room.  The Festival orchestra played well, a few occasional moments of sour string intonation notwithstanding.

Photo: © Gianfranco Rota

That this performance was able to take place was something of a miracle.  Musically, it gave a great deal of pleasure.  Dramatically, it certainly made the most of the opportunities available and the principals gave highly convincing individual performances even if, with the various bits of extraneous action, it felt somewhat random.  This Festival is a highlight of the operatic year, with a special atmosphere that is quite unique.  If we weren’t able to be there this year, let’s hope that we can all indeed be together again next year.

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