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Death in Venice: Verdi's 'I Due Foscari'

The plaza of San Marco in Venice, seen from the Grand Canal, is a setting for both Verdi's opera, and the dark bit of history that inspired it.
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The plaza of San Marco in Venice, seen from the Grand Canal, is a setting for both Verdi's opera, and the dark bit of history that inspired it.

Like virtually every opera, Giuseppe Verdi's I Due Foscari is a vehicle for opera's true stars — its singers. But this opera also showcases a star of a different kind: the legendary city of Venice.

There's little doubt that Venice has a special magic, all its own, and the numbers prove it. With a population of less than 300,000, Venice entertains 15 million visitors every year.

Venetian history goes all the way back to the 6th century, when the city was founded by wartime refugees. Later, Venice grew to be one of Europe's most powerful city states, ruled for hundreds of years by a succession of colorful doges and ruthless councils, including the famous Council of Ten. The city's fascinating political history is ripe with conflict and intrigue.

The city also has a rich musical history. In the 1500's, it gave birth to some of the most spectacular music ever composed — the antiphonal brass and choral works of Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli. Claudio Monteverdi wrote operas for Venice in the early 1600s, and the city gave birth to the first public opera house in 1637. During the next century, Venice became home to of one of the most famous opera houses anywhere, La Fenice, which is still going strong today.

Given its rich history, both musical and political, it's no surprise that Venice also became a popular setting for operas. The most famous opera set in Venice is probably Ponchielli's steamy drama La Gioconda.

But when it comes to dramatic evocations of Venice's complex and sometimes deadly political history, the opera of choice has to be Verdi's I Due Foscari, based on the struggles of a real life, 15th-century doge, Francesco Foscari, and his ill-fated son, Jacopo.

On World of Opera, host Lisa Simeone presents a production of I Due Foscari from the Konzerthaus in Vienna, starring Leo Nucci and Francisco Casanova as Francesco and Jacopo, along with soprano Manon Feubel and conductor Bertrand de Billy.

See the previous edition of World of Opera or the full archive

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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