Simon Boccanegra is not one of Verdi's finest, but is an opera that grows on you. The story is not the easiest to follow, but while there are not the big tunes that La Traviata and Rigoletto have the music is wonderful, Orfanella in Tetto Umile I am especially fond of. This production from La Scala falls a little short, but is still a solid production. It's not as good as the 1978 La Scala, 1984 Met, 1995 Met and 1991 Royal Opera House productions, but superior to the 1976 Tokyo, 1998 Glyndebourne and 2010 Met ones.
Visually, the production is mostly good. The costumes are beautifully tailored, the sets are traditional with interesting use of colours and the lighting is a perfect fit also. The staging is mostly compelling and intelligently done, never coming across as genuinely distasteful. It is not quite perfect in this regard, with some of the more modern touches not merging as well as they could have done. While the descending shrubs analogy wasn't so hard to understand, the idea of father and daughter being re-united, it wasn't really needed and distracted from the drama. And the production could easily have done without the use of the large mirror and the rapid video cutting in the final scene, the focus on the two principals in this scene was completely lost.
Musically, there is very little to complain about. The orchestra's playing has the right lushness and power for Verdi's score, and the chorus are remarkably stirring in the Counsel scene. The conducting of Daniel Barenboim is enigmatic with great musicianship and awareness of drama, particularly in the tender pathos of Orfanella in Tutto Umile and the increasing intensity of the Counsel scene. It also flows beautifully throughout the production. The sound is clear and balances the singers and orchestra very well. Of the lead performances, two were good and three were brilliant. The two good ones were Fabio Sartori and Massimo Cavalletto. Sartori has a ringing tone that is appropriate for both the lyrical and dramatic aspects of the role, but dramatically is rather stolid for Adorno. Cavalletto's Paolo is resonantly sung and scheming but could have been a little more repellent.
Placido Domingo may not quite fit the bill of "true Verdi baritone"(if something of that nature were to exist), but his Boccanegra is brilliant. His singing is astonishingly good at 69(this is actually a 2010 production) and he has exactly the right dignity, authority and fatherly love for this monumental role, perhaps second only to Rigoletto in difficulty(in regard to Verdi baritones that is). Ferruccio Furlanetto's Fiesco has a very powerful presence from his first entrance to the very end, and Lacerato Spirito is sturdily sung. His rapport with Domingo in Simon Tu and Piango, Perché Me Parla gives these two duets the emotional oomph they ought to have. And the Amelia of Anja Harteros is very affecting, her tone is radiant and intelligently shaped and phrased and her acting is dignified and moving. Orfanella in Tetto Umile was just sublime here.
Overall, a very solid and very good on the whole production. 7/10 Bethany Cox
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