Simon Boccanegra, Metropolitan Opera live relay, February 2010

In the Council chamber scene, during the second part of Act I, the Doge pleads for peace with Genoa, while the Senate calls for war. Suddenly fighting is heard outside, but Boccanegra, as Doge, commands the doors be opened and the people allowed in. This confident act shows Boccanegra to be a leader, a man we can trust. What a change this is from some of the weak leaders we have in Europe today. Boccanegra is a strong and noble character, torn down by enemies who resent his use of power, yet willing to support his long lost daughter in her desire to marry one of them.

Placido Domingo played him superbly, singing this baritone role with excellent lyrical expression. It is a remarkable transformation for this great tenor, particularly in such an exhausting role. His nemesis, Jacopo Fiesco was strongly sung by James Morris, and their interactions, in the Prologue at the beginning and again in Act III at the end, were masterpieces of musical staging.

Before the start of the Prologue, Boccanegra has seduced Fiesco’s daughter, Maria, who then gave birth to a daughter of her own, also named Maria. The mother is now dead, and in Act I, twenty-five years later, neither man yet realises that the daughter is now Amelia Grimaldi, beautifully portrayed by Adrianne Pieczonka. It’s a difficult part that opens Act I with an aria alone on stage, immediately followed by a love duet with Gabriele Adorno, powerfully sung by Marcello Giordani, whom she warns about his political intrigues. Then after an important scene when Fiesco tells Adorno that his beloved is an adopted orphan, she meets Boccanegra, finding out that he is her real father. This recognition scene was marvellously done, and I only wish I had seen it on stage rather than the cinema screen, where we have to look at one or the other when they are not close enough for the camera.

I shall not go through the whole opera, except to say it is a good idea to have some clue about the plot before it starts. Fiesco originally refuses to forgive Boccanegra, demanding that he yield to him the baby daughter, but this is impossible as the girl was taken away at birth to be brought up near the sea, where Boccanegra, at that time a pirate, could visit her. He lost contact with her when her nurse died, and in the Prologue is acclaimed Doge of Venice. Only at the end of the opera can he return the young woman, his daughter, now called Amelia, to her grandfather. In the meantime, his chief of staff, Paolo, menacingly portrayed by Stephen Gaertner (incorrectly stated on the cast list as Nicola Alaimo), has put a slow poison in his drink. Lest the poison not serve its purpose, Paolo also tries persuading Fiesco to stab him to death, and when Fiesco refuses he convinces Adorno to do the deed. In the end Paolo is tortured and executed, and though Boccanegra makes peace with both Adorno and Fiesco, nothing can prevent the poison doing its work. One rather macabre aspect of this production was the late scene between father and daughter when she helps him to drink from the poisoned cup. I could have done without this, but otherwise the production by Giancarlo del Monaco, with glorious sets and costume designs by Michael Scott was simply terrific. Filming by Barbara Willis Sweete showed everything very clearly with excellent close-ups and fine perspectives on the whole scene.

Conducting by James Levine gave a great sense of drama to Verdi’s music, and it will be interesting to compare his excellent direction with that of Antonio Pappano at Covent Garden this summer. For those forthcoming performances we have Domingo again in the title role, with Ferruccio Furlanetto as Fiesco, Marina Poplavskaya as Maria/Amelia, and Joseph Calleja as Adorno.

2 Responses to “Simon Boccanegra, Metropolitan Opera live relay, February 2010”

  1. John says:

    Can I just jump in to say that I agree totally with Mark’s commentary, and add that from my perspective the Met’s telecast of Simon Boccanegra was nothing short of terrific?

    I’d never seen it before and had no clue about what to expect. And “terrific” is not quite good enough. How about “it redefined the term Grand Opera for me”? No, it was more than that. It was that rare perfect marriage of music, singing, acting, libretto, casting, costumes, sets and production that had us dissecting it and praising it all the way home.

    Just a wonderful afternoon. “Jimmy’s orchestra” never sounded better and Verdi’s score was just gorgeous. Placido Domingo was perfect for Simon’s baritone role – wonderfullyl sung and his acting was superb. His death by poisoning for example was a tad protracted (and, as Mark says, macabre), but we all wondered “how did he fall down like that without hurting himself? Twice!” His acting ability added so much to the drama.

    The tenor Marcello Giordiani (Gabrielle) and the heroine Amelia (the Canadian Adrianne Pieczonka) were well matched and the chemistry was there.

    OK, I admit the opening Prologue was dark and yes, I did doze off. Twice. But Acts I, II and III redeemed the production – big time. The set of the Doge’s Palace at the end of Act I was, I thought, a virtual Renaissance painting. Jewel like, even. And there were these wonderful arias and duets – notably when Amelia and Gabrielle profess their love for each other, and then when Amelia and Simon reunite as daughter and father. I’m still shaking my head.

    Now if Renee Fleming could find another way to end her live on-stage interviews with something other than “Toi, toi, toi” life would be perfect.

  2. antoine says:

    No comment

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