One of Verdi's early operas, the three-act "Foscari" is a retelling of Lord Byron's verse play, "The Two Foscari," loosely based on the real story of the political and moral dilemma faced by the doge of Venice after his son is accused of murder and treason in the early period of the Renaissance.
The West Bay production, which will be the Bay Area's premiere of the work, will be faithful to the opera's original setting and will be sung in Italian, with English titles on screen.
"I due Foscari" is "one of those overlooked gems, and I wanted to give it more exposure," said West Bay's general director, Jose Luis Moscovich, who will conduct the work. But why has it been overlooked if it's such a gem? The first reason, Moscovich said, is that it's hard to cast.
"This is a piece that requires a major Verdian baritone, in the same league with "Macbeth" and "Boccanegra," a major Verdian spinto soprano with a killer coloratura and really expressive voice ... and a major tenor," he said. "Those are casting requirements that are hard to fill, especially in the West."
But, he added, the singers in the West Bay production "are ambitious enough and ready to sing" the challenging roles. Soprano Christina Major, who sang the lead role in West Bay's 2017 "Norma," and more recently at the Teatro Colon opera house in Buenos Aires, will sing the part of Lucrezia Contarini; tenor Nathan Granner, who sang the role of Rodolfo in West Bay's "La boheme" last fall, will perform as her husband, Jacopo Foscari; baritone Jason Duika, "Boheme's" Marcello last fall, is cast as the doge, Francesco Foscari; and Benjamin Brady, who took the top prize at the Metropolitan Opera auditions in San Francisco recently, sings the part of Jacopo's enemy, Loredano.
The opera premiered in 1844 at the Teatro Argentina in Rome. The local premiere is attracting attention nationally in the opera world, with ticket orders "from many places in the U.S.," Moscovich said. "People want to see it, but it doesn't get programmed."
"This is a major score ... (with) wonderful ensemble writing," he said. The chorus for the local production has been expanded to 30 people, he added, to deliver the "grandeur that some of the ensembles demand."
Moscovich said "Foscari" is a work that fits with his determination, during this performance season, to "reclaim the relevance of opera to today's reality. Because I always say that opera, which reflects on topics so inherent to the human condition, like love, ambition, envy, greed, etc., is a slice of life."
Stage direction for "I due Foscari" is by Richard Harrell.
Performances are Friday, Feb. 15; Saturday, Feb. 23; and Sundays, Feb. 17 and 24. The Feb. 17 matinee performance is followed by a discussion with the cast and directors seated onstage.
If you go
When:Feb. 15 and 23, 8 p.m; Feb. 17 and 24, 2 p.m.
Where:Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road in Palo Alto.
Tickets: $35 to $85. Group, senior and student discounts. To reserve seats call 650-424-9999 (preferred); or go online at WBOpera.org.
More information: WBOpera.org.