I Due Foscari – The Light in the LagunaSeptember 5, 2019
Notes on adapting I Due Foscari for small theatre
In Opera a libretto can be based on a wide range of topics. In case of I due Foscari by Giuseppe Verdi, my latest project for Opera St Moritz, the script is loosely based on the apotheoses of the life of Francesco Foscari.
Foscari was Doge of Venice during a prosperous but turbulent period in European history. It was the transformative time between the high middle ages and early Renaissance, leading up to the fall of Constantinople.
There is a difference between the libretto and the historic background. The libretto has obviously been written for dramatic effect. This is the challenge while staging this beautiful early work by Guiseppe Verdi. For an audience unfamiliar with the historic background it seems nearly impossible to comprehend the reasons for the vendetta between the Foscari and the (Jacopo) Loredano characters.
Favoritism and corruption
The crux between the two is the inescapable result of the Venetian system of government. This system was created to prevent one family usurping hereditary regal status. The empire was to be held by all the important families of the city state. Power was invested upon the Doge, who was chosen out of the ranks of the vast senate. They in their turn were represented by the smaller Council of Ten, the Dieci. This system unavoidably led to favoritism and corruption. The narrative of this opera is a reflection of this situation.
The Loredano Family prided themselves in historically providing many of the admirals and administrators for the Venetian fleet. The Foscari on the other hand where exalted civil servants.
Francsco Foscari descended from lesser stock but had obtained several lucrative positions, for example the Procuratorate of St Marco that Jacopo Loredano’s father Pietro also sought to officiate. Jealousy thus augmented the already existing discord.
When in 1423 the Foscari faction in the Senate questionably obtained the Doge’s hat the schism between the families was complete.
One added aspect in the real story is that Francesco Foscari lived until the ripe old age of 84.
This long span of time provided the Foscari family with extensive possibilities to obtain more power and wealth. They even considered ascending to an even higher status, the crown.
Demise of the two Foscari
During his long life Francesco Foscari lost all his sons but one, Jacopo Foscari. Through machinations in the Senate and amongst the Dieci, Jacopo Foscari, accused of the murder of one of his judges, was banished to Crete and later still was framed for conspiracy while still in exile. Jacopo Foscari died on Crete, His Father deceased a few months later, a week after being disposed of by the council of ten guided by Jacopo Loredano.
“Vanitas in Venice”
To provide a setting for the Opera I considered all of the above. I wondered what it was that made all these characters act the way they did. To me the leitmotif of I Due Foscari is the immense Vanity of the actors in this drama:
The governing Venetian families building an impressive but almost impossible city on the mud of a laguna while exploring great parts of the known world to broker trade relations and import a myriad of luxury goods back to the city of San Marco, gathering wealth by trading these goods throughout western Europe and obtaining these goods to embellish themselves and their city.
The Vanity of Veniceâ€™s ruling class is depicted in the rich and vibrant outfits used in this Opera.
All the soloists have one colour that derives from the third circle of the Johannes Itten colour wheel. A Wheel symbolising the perpetual cycle of life and death. The city, its opulent palaces and churches, like a reef of beautiful blooming flowers.
The flowers embroidered on the costumes are metaphors for the characters they adorn. The flowers that, for now, bloom, but will wither in time.
The Choir, or common people, remain in the blues and the greens that make them part of the fabric of the laguna.
Everywhere one looks is the ubiquitous reflection of water. I decided that the stage should be a reflection of the city built on water:
The water and the sky, resulting in the light in the laguna, where everything is a mirror; everything is a reflection of everything else. The city that is built on water but after 1500 years is now starting to sink back into the mud.
Everything is Vanity.
Venice is Narcissus forever in love with its own reflection. Venice is Hyacinthus, the radiant prince eventually struck down to perish in the wind of times, his blood flowing through the aquatic veins of the laguna to become the most beautiful of all flowers.
Peter George d’Angelino Tap
Our next set of performances are in Riehen, near Basel, on 19, 21 en 22 September. Like to experience opera up close? Tickets are available via opera-stmoritz.ch.