Donizetti: Marino Faliero / Cinquegrani, Surian, Stanisci, Magri, Grassi, Dall'amico

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DONIZETTI Marino Faliero Bruno Cinquegrani, cond; Giorgio Surian ( Marino Faliero ); Rachele Stanisci ( Elena ); Ivan Magri ( Fernando); Luca Grassi ( Israele ); Luca Dall’Amico ( Steno ); Domenico Menini ( Gondolier); Bergamo Music Fest Gaetano Donizetti O & Ch NAXOS 8.660303-04 (2 CDs: 144:24) Live: Bergamo 2008

Composing the score for Marino Faliero was an important project for Gaetano Donizetti in late 1834 because for the first time he had received a commission to create a work for Parisian audiences. Paris in those years was the glamorous opera capital of the Western world; to work there meant the real possibility of great fame and much fatter purses. The commission had come from expatriate Gioachino Rossini’s Théâtre Italien, then a thriving Paris showcase for new Italian opera works in their original language. Because of previous commitments, Donizetti was forced to work on his score in Italy. When he finally arrived in Paris he was induced to make major revisions to what he had already written, whether at the behest of Rossini or because he felt the opera inadequate to please Parisian tastes in its original state, we do not know; perhaps some of both.

Donizetti’s new work was to be blessed with the participation of four of the best singers then performing, including soprano Giulia Grissi and tenor Giovanni Battista Rubini, but also cursed with the ill fortune of appearing in the theater directly after I Puritani , the highly regarded new work of Vincenzo Bellini, both at the March 12, 1835, premiere in Paris and later that year at its London premiere with the same singers. Operagoers in both cities picked favorites, and I Puritani won out. The famous singing foursome was dubbed the “I Puritani Quartet,” not the “Faliero Quartet.”

I am certainly not familiar with all the 65 or so librettos Donizetti set or partially set to music; very few people are. I have heard and read enough of them, however, to know even though the story is based on a work by Lord Byron, Marino Faliero probably doesn’t rank in the top 20. The story is of Faliero, the 55th Doge of Venice, already the titular head of the citizen government of the 14th-century city-state. Feeling disrespected by the ruling Council of 40 for not pursuing stiffer penalties against his political enemies and others who are bandying his wife’s name about as an adulteress, Faliero joins a conspiracy against the ruling elite and declares himself Prince of Venice. The uprising fails and Faliero is imprisoned. To add insult to injury his wife, Elena, informs the Doge before his execution that the rumors are true, she has been unfaithful with his tenor nephew Fernando, who had been killed off in act II. The Doge is initially angry, but comes to a better state and forgives Fernando and his wife before going off to the block. The Dogaressa, bereft of both lover and husband, will hie to a nunnery. So, what’s not to like here? A cheating wife who precipitates the death of her young lover? A political leader not content with his own power who acts foolishly and treacherously on spurious reasoning? Who can’t get into that? Donizetti mitigates the infelicities of the libretto to some extent with very good, if not great, music. He does not match the level of inspiration Bellini achieves in I Puritani , but this work is not chopped liver, either.

The singing on this recording is generally quite good. The vocalists understand the need to ornament repeat passages, especially in Donizetti’s cabalettas, and do so with varying degrees of success. Young tenor Ivan Magri and young soprano Rachele Stanisci perform the best, although as Fernando, Magri is killed in act II, and Stanisci, as Elena, does not appear in act II at all. Magri can go a bit flat at times, but both voices handle the bel canto style and soar when necessary. Both hold the potential of good careers to come. Baritone Luca Grassi competently sings the substantial role of Israele, leader of the conspirators. The disappointment in the pack is the singing of Giorgio Surian as the Doge, Faliero. Surian has developed a wide vibrato; some would call it a flutter or incipient wobble. That makes him difficult to listen to for long and spoils some of the ensemble pieces as well. There is also very little separation in tonal quality between bass and baritone in their several numbers together. The partly student Bergamo Festival Donizetti Orchestra plays surprisingly well and supports the singers in excellent fashion under the baton of bel canto specialist Bruno Cinquegrani. The chorus is a bit ragged at times; it sounds like they need more rehearsal time.

To my knowledge, this Naxos CD release (and its DVD counterpart) is only the fifth recording of Marino Faliero. The modern-era revival in Bergamo in 1966 was captured live and issued on Melodram LPs with some locally known singers (I don’t believe this recording ever made it to CD). In 1977 a live production for RAI Turin featured possibly the best Faliero in bass, Cesare Siepi. He is accompanied by the well-sung Israele of Lucinio Montefusco, the Elena of Marisa Galvany, and the Fernando of Giuliano Cianella, the last two of which lack any clue about bel canto style. In addition, the tenor ducks high notes throughout and more than one number is transposed to a lower key. This set is still available in quite good mono sound on Myto and Bongiovanni. A 1999 release from Hungary on the Agora label, which I have not heard, apparently suffers from a badly inadequate tenor. There is a Hardy DVD filmed in Parma in 2002 with some major voices, including Rockwell Blake as Fernando, Mariella Devia as Elena, and Michele Pertusi as the Doge, which is arguably better than the current set, although it too has some problems. Devia is not really a bel canto type either, and by 1992 Blake’s voice was distinctly unlovely, although he still retained his excellent mastery of Donizetti style.

The Naxos booklet contains an article about the opera, a synopsis keyed to the track listing, and short bios of key performers. An Italian-only libretto is available on the website. The stereo sound is excellent; the enthusiastic audience does not intrude on the performances. Marino Faliero is a pretty good opera still wanting a definitive recording. Those who want to see it might opt for the 2002 Hardy DVD or the Naxos release of the current set. This quite substantial and inexpensive CD edition can fill in quite well on the shelf while we wait and hope.

FANFARE: Bill White

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: 8660303-04

  • UPC: 730099030373

  • Label: Naxos

  • Composer: Gaetano Donizetti

  • Conductor: Bruno Cinquegrani

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Bergamo Musica Festival Chorus, Bergamo Musica Festival Orchestra

  • Performer: Domenico Menini, Giorgio Surian, Ivan Magri, Luca Dall’amico, Lucia Grassi, Paola Spissu, Rachele Stanisci