Simon Boccanegra, Royal Opera, ROH, Covent Garden, November 2018Posted on 16 November 2018
Wow! Superb playing from the orchestra under the baton of Hungarian conductor Henrik Nánási, one time music director of the Komische Oper Berlin. His command of the musical forces exhibits wonderfully restrained power, just like his conducting of Salome in January this year. It allows the orchestra to swell with emotion, as in the glorious father/ daughter recognition scene in Act I.
As that daughter Amelia, adopted and brought up as a Grimaldi, Armenian soprano Hrachuhi Bassenz began quietly, warming later into the role of a beautiful and determined protector to her father the Doge, and lover to Gabriel Adorno, sung with terrific verve and clarity by Francesco Meli. His anguished aria in early Act II, after the scheming Paolo (Mark Rucker in his Royal Opera debut) has created Iago-like suspicions in his mind, won spontaneous cheers from the audience. The trio of Amelia, Adorno and the Doge at the end of Act II was terrific, with Carlos Álvarez performing the title role for the first time with the Royal Opera. He sang with hugely sensitive authority throughout, his plea for unity Sia d’amistanza italiche il mio sepolcro altar(Let my tomb be the altar of Italian brotherhood) delivered with striking force. Darkness indeed, but none more so than the steady solemn presence of Ferrucio Furlanetto as Fiesco, intoning his pessimism with huge power in the superbly sung quartet at the end.
The original 1857 version of this opera was something of a failure, partly due to unnecessary complications in the plot, but this 1881 revival has a power and clarity helped by the work of Arrigo Boito on the text, to say nothing of Verdi’s later ability to shape the music in a style Wagner had pioneered in Germany. This is heard already in the sea motives of the prologue, though oddly enough his original version had already been criticised for a dangerous tilt away from the Italian style of melodic supremacy, one critic writing in 1859 that “[Verdi] wanted to follow (albeit at a distance) the footsteps of the famous Wagner, the subverter of present-day music”. Whatever your opinion, this is the opera that paved the way for those wonderful collaborations with Boito that would crown Verdi’s composing career, Otello and Falstaff.
In this 1991 staging, Elijah Moshinsky achieves marvels. The bold large-scale designs, emphasised by an absence of clutter and the cleverly calculated deep perspective of the set, give authority to the story, based on real characters in fourteenth century Genoa. It allows the chorus to fill the space very naturally at important moments while retaining the personal drama that Verdi so masterfully gives us. A very strong cast and a perfect first night for this new run.
Performances continue on various dates until December 10, with a BBC Radio 3 broadcast on 26 January — for details click here.