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The Opera Quarterly 21.1 (2005) 68-92
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Verdi Onstage in the United States
I due Foscari
Verdi's sixth opera, I due Foscari, based on Byron's verse play The Two Foscari, had the misfortune to be brought to the United States in tandem with its predecessor, Ernani, and continually to be judged the weaker work or even a failure. The Italian Opera Company of Havana, which only five months earlier had given Foscari its transatlantic premiere,1 arrived in New York in mid-April 1847, gave two very successful performances of Ernani, then left for Boston, where it opened at the Howard Athenaeum with Ernani on 23 April, and then finally, on 10 May, presented the U.S. premiere of I due Foscari. Apparently the soprano, Teresa Rainieri, had succumbed to what one Boston paper called "our east winds and weather changes," and another "the prevailing influenza," and on opening night she sang poorly.2 On repeating the opera the next night, despite "occasional fits of coughing," she sang better,3 but even fully recovered she could not match the star quality of the company's diva, Fortunata Tedesco, who was singing repeatedly to frenzied acclaim in Ernani.4 According to a Havana paper that published reports on the tour, during the premiere of Ernani one Bostonian, after "having shouted himself hoarse and thrown two bunches and three wreaths of flowers at the feet of the beautiful Fortunata, not having anything more to throw, threw his hat, his gloves and his cane, and no doubt would have thrown himself if he had not been stopped in time."5
Nothing so enthusiastic occurred during performances of Foscari, a story of fifteenth-century Venetian revenge, and Boston's Daily Evening Transcript reported that "this opera, which general opinion seems to mark as about equal in faults and beauties, has been brought out with tolerable success. . . . It is a thing to grow upon the musical taste by repeated hearing, and will not 'take' at once, like La sonnambula, Masaniello, or Moses in Egypt." Then at length and with approval the paper quoted an [End Page 68] unidentified English critic's review of the opera's premiere in London, stating that Verdi had banished from Foscari all "superfluous embellishments which could interrupt the action or weaken the power of the poem which it illustrates. . . . It is clear the composition is an adjunct of the drama, avoiding all that can divert the attention from the march of events, bringing out the passion and feeling with which it abounds."6 In short, drama undiluted by divertissements.
The Boston Post, also in an unsigned article, presented home-grown views:
Verdi's "lyrical tragedy," I Due Foscari, has not produced an equally striking and electrical effect upon its auditors here as Ernani, by the same composer, although well given by competent artists in the principal choral and orchestral parts. There is less of brilliancy and quality in the concerted pieces; the ear misses Verdi's glorious unisons, which Ernani is replete with, and that intensity of distress and agony required of the Doge, his son [Jacopo], and Lucrezia [Jacopo's wife], tasks the vocalists severely, while it chills and repels the listener to such accumulated horrors. . . . [The review praised] the duet in Jacopo's prison, which reflected that enchantment always given to the senses by the duet in Ernani. That, with the trio and quartette [all in act 2], and Jacopo's opening solo [act 1], are the gems of this opera. . . . The choral force has less to do in this opera than usual with Verdi's compositions generally. What they had in charge, however, they executed admirably, and gave out a body of sound worthy of double their number. . . . If we did not know Verdi scored very strongly for his wind instruments, and especially the bass, some idea of too much clangor might suggest itself from the band's execution of some portions of their score. That leading trombone is undoubtedly too sharp and explosive, which the very able leader should correct...