Dear Fellow Opera Lovers:
Before you do anything else – before you even finish reading this review – go to the website of your nearest theatre which shows¬†European HD operas¬†(if you don’t know where it is, go to:¬†emergingpictures.com/opera-in-cinema/theaters/ and enter your zip code) and check their web page to see if the¬†La Scala¬†production of¬†Simon Boccanegra¬†will be playing in the future.¬† If it is, plan to go; if it is not, you have my sympathy.
Simon Boccanegra¬†at La Scala
Sara and I saw it last night at¬†Cinema 7¬†in nearby Campbell.¬† When we left the theater we both felt emotionally drained.¬† There was a definite lump in my throat when father and daughter realized their relationship, and a bigger one when Simon and Jacopo Fiesco were finally reconciled at the end.
Plť°cido Domingo¬†was incredible.¬† He was the Doge.¬† He dominated.¬† He ruled.¬† He suffered.¬† Science says that a man’s voice at 69 has lost something from when he was 40 something.¬† You¬†couldn’t prove it by me.¬† My unsophisticated ear couldn’t detect the slightest quaver or lack of tone or volume or subtlety in his voice.
And the rest of the cast was worthy of him.¬†¬†Anja Harteros¬†was particularly effective as Amelia.¬†Ferruccio Furlanetto¬†truly caught the essence of the patrician Jacopo Fiesco – a stern and unyielding bigot – he wants to kill Boccanegra, but only in a fair fight (which he would probably lose because he’s a generation older), but he’ll go to jail rather than participate in a plot to poison him or stab him in the back.¬†Massimo Cavalletti¬†was convincing as the villain, Paolo Albiani.¬†Fabio Sartori¬†didn’t have quite the acting ability of the others in the part of Gabriele Adorno, but there was nothing wrong with his voice.
There is no question but that my enjoyment – my thrill – at the performance was increased by the fact that the title role was sung by Domingo.¬† There was something about his presence that made him my favorite among the “Three Tenors” when I watched their memorable concert on TV twenty years ago.¬† His durability is amazing.¬† This past¬†year I have had mixed feelings when I saw/heard Samuel¬†Ramey¬†and¬†James Morris¬†in relatively minor roles.¬† On the one¬†hand I was pleased that they could still perform creditably after all those years, but on the other hand I was sad that they were now so much less than they had been twenty years ago.¬† Not so with¬†Plť°cido Domingo.¬† He was as great as ever in a role that was not only new, but was usually sung by a baritone!¬† I even got excited about the curtain call as I imagined how I would feel if I were one of that audience that I saw on the screen.¬† In¬†La Scala, on my feet, applauding with all my might and shouting, “Bravo.”¬† Imagine.¬† It was almost half a century ago that he made his U. S. operatic debut in Dallas, singing the role of Arturo opposite¬†Joan Sutherland’s Lucia!
The story has some basis in fact.¬† A former Christian pirate named¬†Simon Boccanegra was elected the first Doge of Genoa in 1339 over the patrician Jacopo Fiesco.¬† He negotiated some treaties during his reign, and when he died of poison, he was succeeded by the plebian¬†Gabriele Adorno.¬† But my cursory research on the web did not indicate the existence of Amelia or of any personal relationship among the various families.¬† And his treaties were soon broken.
Regardless of what the character of the real Simon may or may not have been, the character created by¬†Verdi¬†and his librettist¬†Boito¬†is truly admirable and centuries ahead of his time.¬† Politically he thought it was more important to try for peace rather than just try to be victorious in war.¬† And he allowed his daughter to marry the man of her choice even though he knew it would be politically unwise (it turned out to be fatal).¬† How many other operatic heroes can you truly admire?¬† You can like them (the Prince in¬†La Cenerentola), you can hate them (Pinkerton in¬†Madama Butterfly), you can pity them (Rudolpho in¬†La Boheme), you can have complex mixed feelings (Rigoletto), you can love them in spite of their stupidity (almost all tenor heroes), but admire?¬† Name one.
There is one drawback to being able to see so many operas.¬† I don’t always maintain sharp memories of any particular opera.¬† That is one reason that I started writing about operas that particularly impressed me some years before I had even heard of SPLASH MAGAZINE.¬† So, rather than make what well might be misleading comparisons of last night’s La Scala’s HD performance with last February’s performance from the¬†Met, let me simply give you now what I wrote then, and let you make your own comparisons. Though I’ve added a couple of pictures, I haven’t changed a word.
Simon Boccanegra¬†at the Met
Wow, what a performance. ¬†Simon is definitely in my top ten list of operas.
I have a dim memory of having seen this opera on TV many years ago, but I had no conscious memory of what it was about or of anything in it. ¬†But as I watched it this morning, some of the plot came back to me, and so did occasional bits of scenery. Could I have seen it on TV years ago? ¬†I know this¬†Met¬†production is not a new one; indeed in one of the interviews it came out that¬†Plť°cido Domingo¬†had sung the tenor lead when it was last produced in 19-something. ¬†All of which is really in parentheses – the important thing is that most of the plot twists, including the ending, struck me as being unfamiliar.
And I mean “struck me” almost literally. ¬†I felt stunned as the first act curtain came down – and the last two acts were hardly anticlimactic.
Why isn’t it performed more often? ¬†OK, perhaps the music isn’t quite as immediately great as Rigoletto¬†or¬†La Traviata¬†– but that’s really praising with faint damns. ¬† But offhand I can’t think of a plot that has more depth to it. ¬†And is there any other opera where the lead female part is more than 29 years old? ¬†(and I mean the “character”; the “soprano” is usually more than 39).
More than once when I’ve just seen an opera I think, “I wish my parents could have seen this with me,” but never as strongly as today. ¬†¬†Plť°cido Domingo¬†and¬†James Morris¬†singing a duet with James Levine¬†conducting. ¬†These three were coming stars when Mother and Dad went to the Met – and they are still stars today. ¬†Don’t miss¬†Renee Fleming’s interviews with them.
And does anyone write male duets like¬†Verdi¬†does? (In fact, does anyone else write male duets?). ¬†They have a couple of numbers here in the same league as the one in¬†Don Carlos.
I hope that the Met will put this production in its regular rotation and that they will put it on their HD program again in the near future.
C A S T S
ROLE¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†MET¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†¬†¬†¬†LA SCALA
Simon Boccanegra¬†¬†¬† Plť°cido Domingo¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Plť°cido Domingo
Amelia¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Adrianne Pieczonka¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Anja Harteros
Gabriele Adorno¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Marcello Giordani¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† ¬†¬† Fabio Sartori
Jacopo Fiesco¬†¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†¬† James Morris¬†¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† Ferruccio Furlanetto
Paolo Albiani¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Stephen Gaertner¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Massimo Cavalletti
Conductor¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† James Levine¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Daniel Barenboim
Photos by ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†¬†¬†¬† Marty Sohl¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† (various)
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This review by Philip G Hodge appeared in sanfranciscosplash.com on June 22, 2010.