Placido Domingo, playing his record 140th role, was marvelous as the father in Verdi’s early opera, “I Due Foscari,” at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion of the Music Center. The vehicle is perfectly suited to his lower voice range as he continues to amaze after almost a half century of performing.
Verdi was certainly in a somber mood when he chose to write an opera about an obscure Doge of 15th century Venice. Although a sense of gloom permeates the story, Verdi managed to compose glorious music as prelude to the famous and more masterful operas such as “Rigoletto” and “Otello.”
The plot of the opera revolves around the Doge’s son, Foscari Junior, who has returned to Venice after being exiled and is now being tried by the feared Council of Ten. Although later proved innocent, he is accused of treason and murder.
The Doge, played By Domingo, is helpless to intervene in spite of the torture of his son and the importations of his daughter-in-law. He feels he is not above the law.
Francesco Meli, as the younger Foscari, won well-deserved applause, not only because he sang with strength and passion, but because he was able to sing while suspended from the ceiling in a cage. The Doge’s daughter-in-law was played by Marina Poplavskaya, who has a powerful soprano voice. Called on to repeatedly seek her husband’s release, she was outstanding, especially in her duets with Domingo. Although most of the characters were clothed in black, red or white, Poplavskaya was fetching in several colorful costumes designed by Mattie Ullrich.
Smaller roles were well played by Ben Bliss, Levgen Orlov, Omar Crook, Tracy Cox and Hunter Phillips.
The set was bleak and disturbing. A huge curtain, with tiny windows, circled the stage, but the centerpiece was the infamous Bridge of Sighs that led to prison, torture and death.
It was an ugly setting, suitable for showing the torture of young Foscari on a horrible body-stretching device.
The designer, Kevin Knight, could have come up with something a little less gruesome. The small platforms inserted for intimate scenes looked inappropriate against the somber background. Because of the design, the director, Thaddeus Strassberger, had a hard time getting everything right. There were many awkward moments for the singers.
Of course, the Verdi music must be the excuse for exhuming this work. There are wonderful solos, duets, trios and ensembles. James Conlon was on hand to lead the Los Angeles Opera and bring out the joys of the score. There was little joy in the libretto.