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 Foroni's Margherita


Wexford Festival, Ireland,  October 20 - November 4, 2017

 Photographs by Clive Barda, courtesy of Wexford Opera Festival.


This was another first for Wexford after their successful production of Foroni's Cristina, regina di Svezia in 2013. It is a co production with Oldenburgisches Staatstheater. Charles Jernigan has contributed the following review.


Jacopo Foroni (1824-1858) will not be a name that most opera lovers know.  Born near Verona to a musical family, he studied in Milan and made his operatic debut there at the Teatro Re in 1848 (he was 23) with Margherita, an opera semi-seria based on a French libretto by Eugène Scribe intended for Boieldieu (who died before he could finish it).   Margherita had a very successful debut, both with audiences and critics.


 Swedish musicologist Anders Wiklund rediscovered Foroni’s Cristina, regina di Svezia a few years ago and produced an edition which was first performed in concert in Sweden and recorded.  Wexford offered the first staging to great acclaim in 2013 (see here), and now Wiklund has prepared the score of Foroni's first opera. Wexford once again has a coup, offering its first staging in the modern era.  It is a wonderful score, well constructed and full of very beautiful and melodious music and clever rhythms.  Professor Wiklund once again deserves enormous thanks for bringing this superb piece to the public.  


Giorgio Giachetti's libretto is well constructed but standard issue opera semi-seria. Except for the fact that the accused is a man instead of an innocent young girl, the story is almost identical to Rossini's La gazza ladra, a work which had its debut in Milan thirty years before Foroni's work.  The rural setting, the choruses of villagers (which are frequent and important), the aria structure, the melting mezzo-soprano duet in Act II (like the Pippo-Ninetta duet in La gazza ladra), the villain who is also a buffo (Roberto and the Podestà) all have close parallels in Rossini's opera.  The structure may be Rossinian, but the music is not, although the buffo duets and the love duet in Act II ("A te dappresso") often resemble the Donizetti of Don Pasquale, and one can hear the influence of Bellini's La sonnambula at times.  Otherwise, it is new wine in an old bottle--and very good wine it is, closer to Verdi than the earlier composers.  


Setting the opera in Switzerland and giving it an old form (semi-seria) was a safe way to avoid censorship according to the director Michael Sturm.  Nonetheless, he moved the setting of the Wexford production to post-World War II Milan which we see in the solid unit set of a bombed-out landscape of urban northern Italian architecture.  His inspiration (he says) came from post war Italian films like de Sica's "Miracle in Milan" or Rosselini's "Roma, Città Aperta."  Other scenery drops into place or is brought into the Milanese piazza to create various other scenes--Margherita's bedroom or the town court room.  Instead of a prison, we got a scaffold with a hangman's noose for Ernesto's "prison" aria in Act II.  Mostly it works.  The colorful costumes (1950's post-war Italian) are very attractive too; like the solid sets, they were by Stefan Rieckhoff. Lighting by D.M. Wood was atmospheric in this opera and very helpful in establishing mood and scene.  


Sturm's production appropriately treats the buffo parts traditionally, and the choral movement (they often dance) gives the production verve.  The fairly complicated story is told clearly through the action and acting, which tended to be good if not brilliant.  Mezzo-soprano Alessandra Volpe was a very pretty, rich-voiced Margherita, especially good in the duets.  She has a sumptuous lower register and real power, but it was not always under perfect control, especially at the second of the two performances I saw (Nov. 1 and 4).  Giustina seems to be a character whose principal purpose is vocal contrast, and  Giuliana Gianfaldoni sang her coloratura passages correctly; her voice has power too, although it tended to be less smooth in the higher parts.  It melded perfectly with Volpe for their Act II duet. Ser Matteo seems obviously intended for a buffo bass and Matteo D'Apolito is a baritone, but he was excellent vocally and as an actor, his patter amusing and accurate.  Filippo Fontana was a slim Roberto with a limp--apparently the reason he has not been in the army.  Vocally he was reasonably good, though not so good as I remember him from two previous seasons at Wexford (in An Italian Straw Hat and Don Bucefalo).  Baritone Yuri Yurchuk was a mellifluous Count Rodolfo.  Tenor Andrew Stenson as Ernesto was the weakest of the principals.  His is a sweet tenore di grazia and like all the singers, he was better in Act II than in Act I (the music is better in Act II also).  Sometimes he was tentative with the decorations or had some trouble finding the notes, but his Act II "prisoner's aria" was beautifully sung, including a  perfect high note at the end.  Timothy Meyers conducted what seemed to me to be a well-paced performance, but complete unfamiliarity with the score makes judgment difficult.  The chorus (as in all of the Wexford operas) was very well trained (Errol Girdlestone, Chorus Master) and they acted as well as they sang.  


Donizetti died the same year as Margherita's debut and although Foroni's music is clearly reminiscent of late Donizetti from time to time, it strikes me that it is closer to Verdi than to the earlier bel canto composers.  In any case, Foroni has a style and shape to his melodies that is his own.  In other words, he was a composer with his own discernible voice.  It is a tragedy that he died so young, certainly; otherwise he might well have given Verdi a run for his money.  Both Margherita and Cristina, regina di Svezia are splendid operas, well worthy of revival.  



The Team 

Margherita - Alexandra Volpe

Giustina -  Giuliana Gianfaldoni 

Ernesto - Andrew Stenson

Ser Matteo - Matteo d’Apolito 

Conte Rodolfo – Yuri Yurchuk

Roberto - Filippo Fontana


Conductor - Timothy Myers

Director - Michael Sturm

Set and Costume Designer - Stefan Rieckhoff

Lighting Designer - Christopher Akerlind




 ©Clive Barda


Cast and chorus





                                                                                       ©Clive Barda

Margherita and Ernesto 





 ©Clive Barda







©Clive Barda







                                                                                    ©Clive Barda







©Clive Barda


Ser Matteo and chorus







Curtain call



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