Simon Boccanegra, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, June 2010Posted on 30 June 2010
Verdi was brilliant at expressing father-daughter relationships, as this opera makes abundantly clear. Before it starts, Simon Boccanegra has seduced a young noblewoman, and taken their illegitimate daughter away to be cared for, earning him the undying hatred of the young woman’s father, the powerful Jacopo Fiesco. Placido Domingo as Boccanegra, and Feruccio Furlanetto as Fiesco, formed a powerfully opposing duo, whose meetings in the Prologue and again at the end of the opera remain etched in my memory.
Boccanegra returns to Genoa after years of piracy to be elected Doge, only to find that his previous lover, Maria the daughter of Fiesco, has died. Boccanegra has tragically lost track of their daughter, unaware that she was later adopted under the name of Amelia Grimaldi. A quarter of a century later, the recognition scene between the two, with Marina Poplavskaya as Amelia, was simply superb. Her voice showed plaintiveness and purity, yet firm resolve, and their singing and body language melded beautifully together. The acting of Domingo, Furlanetto and Poplavskaya was simply wonderful — I cannot imagine better. Add to that the singing of Joseph Calleja as Amelia’s beloved Gabriele Adorno, and this was a terrific cast — Calleja sang like a god.
Amelia’s other passionate admirer, Paolo, is Boccanegra’s chief of staff, a man instrumental in making him Doge. This part was sung by Jonathan Summers who played the same role in some of the original 1991 performances of this production by Elijah Moshinsky. The production is excellent, with large sets by Michael Yeargan that use the stage to create wide open spaces, and I loved the addition of an old navigational instrument in Boccanegra’s quarters in Act II. Costumes by Peter J. Hall are wonderful, and Moshinsky obviously returned to direct this revival — the first since 2004 — appearing on stage with the cast at the end.
The Council chamber scene was memorable, and musical direction by Antonio Pappano was gentle, sensitive, yet immensely powerful when necessary. As Boccanegra calls on Paolo to find out who is guilty of Amelia’s recent abduction, the five trombones played like thunder.
When I compare this production and performance to the opening night of the new, rather cold, production of Manon a week ago, I am thankful for the warmth and sincerity of this marvellous experience. It’s a sell-out, but if you can get hold of tickets, don’t hesitate. At the end the entire main floor gave it a standing ovation.