on 13 April 2013
I Due Foscari often gets lost in the shadows of Nabucco, Macbeth, Attila, Luisa Miller or Stiffelio, but it is an opera certainly worth knowing. My first choice would be the Philips edition with Ricciarelli, Carreras and Capuccilli, but here is an archive gem.
What is most surprising is the dramatic intensity that a young Carlo Maria Giulini brings to the recording; an intensity that penetrates the familiar boxed, mono sound of the Cetra catalogue.The score is cut, of course, but the cuts are judiciously spread so that it's never a whole piece, but rather snips at the set pieces as well as cutting repetitions.
A young Bergonzi injects regular sobs into his interpretation, but his voice is beautifully modulated for the radio performance before a live audience (of whom you are not aware until the end of each act).
Guelfi sounds similar to Gobbi in his upper range, and certainly has the vocal weight and presence for the Doge. He can act too.
Maria Vitale had a wonderful instrument - what a wealth of singers existed in Italy in the 50s and 60s - she has the power and range for Lady Macbeth. She is assured in her attack and a confident actress.
Any Verdi fan should have this recording alongside the Philips edition mentioned above, but also, if you are a fan of great operatic voices then Vitale is worth hearing for sure.
To get to the point, first choice for this neglected early Verdi work remains with the Philips issue conducted by Gardelli with the youthful and very fine team of Carreras, Ricciarelli, Cappuccilli and Ramey, but many might like this live (before an audience), mono, studio recording as a supplement, not least because it features Bergonzi in 1951 in only his second recording as a tenor and Guelfi as a sensitive and touching Doge before waning vocal powers tempted him into compensating by grandstanding and bellowing. The soprano, Maria Vitale, is a fine, spirited artist but a little shrill and over-parted in Verdi; RAI house soprano Caterina Mancini would have done this better, as she does in various contemporary Cetra recordings.
This is the least percussive of Verdi's early works and suits Bergonzi's still still slightly tremulous tenor; he soon settled down in his new tessitura but is here already singing with delicacy and refinement in a part which requires the tenor to be uniformly afflicted and melancholy; Bergonzi's voice has the right plangency with reserves of focused power. Everybody - singers, chorus, orchestra and conductor - is in sympathy with the performing tradition and knows how Verdi should go.
The Warner Fonit remastering is preferable to many other issues on labels which have clearly just have transferred straight from clean LP's and retained some swish and crackle. The sound is still rather distant, crumbly and cavernous but perfectly listenable with a will. The comparative rarity of these now discontinued old Cetra/Warner Fonit discs is reflected in the fact that they can go for ridiculous prices on Amazon Marketplace, but keep looking and you can still eventually find them for very little.