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Recordings

Gaetano Donizetti: Marino Faliero (1835 edition)
20 Aug 2011

Donizetti’s Marino Faliero at the 2008 Bergamo Music Festival

Gaetano Donizetti is arguably the established opera composer with the highest ratio of failures to successes.

Gaetano Donizetti: Marino Faliero (1835 edition)

Marino Faliero: Giorgo Surian; Elena: Rachele Stanisci; Fernando: Ivan Magri; Israele Bertucci: Luca Grassi; Steno: Luca Dall’Amico; Leoni: Leonardo ramegna; A gondolier / Strozzi: Domenico Menini; Irene: Paola Spissu; Vincenzo: Aleksandar Stefanovski; Beltrame: Giuseppe Di Paola; Pietro: Enrico Marchesini; Marco: Livio Scarpellini; Arrigo: Elvis Fanton; Giovanni: Moya Gonzalo Ezequiel. Bergamo Musica Festival Chorus and Orchestra (chorus master: Fabio Tartari). Bruno Cinquegrani, conductor. Marco Spada, stage director. Alessandro Ciammarughi, set and costume designer. Giovanni Pirandello, lighting designer. Recorded live at the Teatro Donizetti, Bergamo, Italy, 31 October and 2 November 2008.

Naxos 2.110616-17 [2DVDs]

$39.99  Click to buy

Of his enormous output, only three operas are regularly staged — Lucia di Lammermoor, L’elisir d’amore, and Don Pasquale. The so-called “Queen” trilogy is once again getting some attention (Maria Stuarda, Anna Bolena, Roberto Devereux), and a couple others get occasional revivals, such as La Favorita and Lucrezia Borgia. But Donizetti wrote at least 4 dozen operas. Verdi, by comparison, wrote over two dozen operas, at least half of which are either standard repertory or get regularly revived. Is the disparity in quality between Donzietti’s established and obscure works really so great?

The answer is a qualified “yes,” on the basis of the Dynamic DVD of the Bergamo Musica Festival’s 2008 resurrection of Marino Faliero, the Donizetti opera that immediately preceded the premiere of his greatest success, Lucia. The full name of the festival, by the way, is Bergamo Musica Festival Gaetano Donzietti, and the operas are performed at the Teatro Donizetti. Explorations of the composer’s lesser-known titles must be a regular festival tradition. The orchestra’s performance of this score, as conducted by Bruno Cinquegrani, certainly reflects comfort with and dedication to the composer’s limited but evocative tonal world. For the tight Teatro Donizetti stage Alessandro Ciammarughi designed a modestly modernistic uni-set, with a sweeping walled staircase at the rear and a grated platform at the center of the open stage space. The costumes, also by Ciammarughi, are more opulent and thoroughly traditional. Given a suitable cast of singers, the festival can be said to have given an obscure opera such as Marino Faliero every opportunity for a fresh presentation of any overlooked virtues.

Faliero debuted around the same time as Bellini’s I Puritani, which had a greater success and overshadowed Donizetti’s work. Contemporary reviews, quoted in Dynamic’s excellent booklet essay, reveal that Faliero received qualified praise at best. The opera did not immediately vanish, but performances dwindled until it had disappeared from the repertory by the turn of the century.

The 2008 performance reveals a work with, unsurprisingly, a flawed libretto that only fitfully inspired the composer to excellent work. The very long first act bears the crux of the responsibility. It takes librettist Giovanni Emanuele Bidera far too long to establish both the romantic triangle and the political intrigue that move the plot forward, and the two elements never really coalesce. The story might seem to foreshadow Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra, as the title character is the Doge of Venice, caught up in the usual Venetian subterfuge and treachery. However, a more apt comparison would be to a sort of funhouse-mirror reflection of Un ballo in Maschera. Marino Faliero would be the Renato character, joining a conspiracy to take power away from a despised elite, but unaware that his wife Elena is in love with another man — the Doge’s nephew, Fernando. Fernando dies in defense of the Doge, and when Faliero’s conspiracy is revealed, he is sentenced to death. His wife then chooses that unfortunate moment to reveal to her husband that she was in love with Fernando. As he faces death, Marino forgives his wife.

It takes Bidera around thirty minutes to even get Faliero on stage, and the rest of act one drags itself to a forgettable conclusion. A spooky chorus starts act two off better, and although Fernando’s act two scene lacks that melodic memorability Donizetti displayed elsewhere, the music is strong. Act three has some more good music as Elena lies in despair after hearing of Fernando’s death, and then a brutal trial scene for the conspirators and Faliero packs a punch that serves to heighten the undeveloped promise of the story. So some of what keeps a small number of Donizetti’s works on the world’s opera stages is in evidence — just not nearly enough.

Perhaps an even better impression would have been made with a stronger cast. The Bergamo audience loves the tenor who sings Fernando, one Ivan Magri, but on DVD he comes across as very modestly talented, singing without much subtlety while misidentifying braying for volume. That said, he is better than the soprano, Rachele Stanisco, whose voice is aggressively unpleasant through much of the opera. By act three she finally seems to have settled and is able to make a decent impression. In the title role, baritone Giorgio Surian wobbles all over the place, but he has a gruff authority suitable for the role. As a chief conspirator, Luca Grassi makes the best impression, singing his music of outrage and defiance with real conviction.

For many opera lovers, exploring rare repertory retains a strong appeal, and though this Bergamo production doesn’t reveal a lost masterpiece, and the performance is not all it could be, there’s enough of interest here to suggest a recommendation to such fans for this Marino Faliero.

Chris Mullins

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