I Due Foscari – one opera; two experiences

One of our favourite operas – the rarely-performed I Due Foscari (Verdi)* – is on at the Royal Opera House. We went to see it last Thursday and followed this up on Monday by watching the live relay performance in the cinema.

First off, the reviews weren’t great, but experience has taught us to keep an open mind, as performances often warm up. On the stage, as far as the singers were concerned, all was well. With Pappano in the pit and Placido Domingo, Francesco Meli and Maria Agresta giving us glorious music with high tragedy and great passion, we were very happy listeners.

BUT this is a maddening production. It is set in a what looks like a Venetian bomb site. Background figures move constantly, but very, very slowly and distractingly, throughout the performance, with some gruesome slow-motion torture thrown in. If you succeed in ignoring the figures, then the scenery – that is the narrow platforms for keeping your feet dry in watery Venice – also move frequently and erratically. (It brought to mind slow-motion table football). If you manage to stop worrying about whether the singers will fall off the platforms, you are dizzied by the Doge’s dining room and bedroom, which appear on a flying, sloped platform, on which the 89-year-old Doge (72-year-old Domingo) has to look stable AND sing his heart out. Then there’s the costumes; these are a sort of riff on Russian Eighteenth century costumes – with a few spare metres of brocade thrown in, the wealthy have electric colours, the poor are clad in grey, brown and dirty white. The Doge’s son, Jacopo, a prisoner, was the only soloist who didn’t have to drag a weighty costume around as he sang, so instead they hung him above the stage in a cage, or tortured him as he sang. In spite of all the drama, the pace felt slow, due, I suggest, to the staging not the conducting.

So three days later, in some curiosity, we went to the


to see the same opera. In this case cinema wins, because the cameramen/women could focus on the singers and not on the distractions on stage, they can even correct for the sloping platform (see clip). Of course the sound is not as exciting as being in the same space as the musicians, but it was pretty damn good. In addition the singers responded to the extra stimulation of being on camera, and this performance was a couple of notches above the earlier one.

We just love the music, but I fear the staging of this production is such that we are unlikely to hear it again for a good few years.

*Plot: The Doge of Venice, now 89, is being forced by The Ten (his rivals and who actually rule) to condemn his last remaining son to exile for treason and murder. His daughter-in-law fights desperately to persuade him to use his power to release his son. The Doge is torn between his role as a ruler, who must uphold justice, and as a father whose, possibly innocent, son will be exiled until death.

Butterfly in Venice

Since EG had three day’s work in Venice, he naturally needed my support. I learnt more than I probably needed to know about managing digital archives (though a session on appraising records was very helpful. I will now write a plan of what needs keeping, set a timetable, then select and delete accordingly. The loft will lose some of it boxes-of-paper insulation, but there will be less to deal with in the long run.)

I love Venice.

Canaletto lives.


Walk one minute in any direction off the main drags and you find a cool, empty, grey-green world.

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We got lost in one empty quarter and were rescued by a cheerful elderly lady with a trolley who marched us to the vaporetto stop. She explained that she was a little deaf, yet she chatted, coping well with my stumbling Italian, and at the same time guiding my footsteps round every small obstacle (polythene bag, dog mess, loose flagstone).

And then there is La Fenice opera house. We were able to buy (restricted view) tickets for Madame Butterfly and spent a happy evening peering over people’s shoulders and listening to a terrific production. The humming chorus was sung from the back of the auditorium and during Butterfly’s long night of waiting, after she had left the stage, a backdrop came down leaving Suzuki and the boy asleep in view. Then vast and incredible cosmic fireworks were shown while they orchestra played to match. We knew none of the singers, but all were good.

A city you could visit over an over again and still find something new.