Simon Boccaneggra

Giuseppe Verdi
Royal Opera House
Royal Opera House

Ensemble - Simon Boccanegra Credit: Clive Barda
Amelia and her father Boccanegra Credit: Clive Barda
Amelia (Hrachuchi Bassenz) Credit: Clive Barda

Elijah Moshinky's production of Verdi's Simon Boccanegra has been revived many times since its 1991 première, but the grand sets and dazzling costumes have lost none of their impact.

Boccanegra is an unusually bottom-heavy show with four bass roles, offset by only one tenor and soprano. It's an excuse for us to revel in the true depths of the voice. Luckily, there is some fine singing—Carlos Álvarez makes a formidable Boccanegra and is well complimented by his rivals Fiesco (Ferrucio Furlanetto) and Paolo (Mark Rucker).

Tenor Francesco Mieli shines from the moment he steps onto stage—his brilliant tenor tone radiantly fills the auditorium with sparkling ease throughout his whole range. His act II aria shows a more introspective side to his character and the resounding cheers which follow prove how much the audience appreciate Mieli's masterful performance. If he utilised that dynamic range across the whole role, this would be an impeccable performance.

Hrachuchi Bassenz features as daughter Amelia, showing off great vocal control with a shimmering tender quality during Verdi's frequent demanding pianissimo sections. Unfortunately, she lacks the same sparkle in the higher tessitura, when Verdi's score asks for a more full-bodied sound.

This revival was overseen by director Moshinky himself and perhaps this is why the production has lost none of its immediacy. In this world of heightened emotions, some of the more melodramatic acting works well, though the repeated use of stereotypical operatic poses and posturing feels well-worn.

In contrast, Álvarez is a more subtle actor, yet ably conveys the contrast between Boccanegra the public figure and statesman and the private emotional man overjoyed to be reunited with his daughter. In the final scene, we meet a man slowly dying from Paulo's poison. He is brought low, his broad frame physically diminished as he stoops over two walking sticks. It is wrenching to witness and his subsequent death well-paced.

This long opera is not Verdi's most exciting plot and Moshinky's staging leans towards more static imagery. The real drama arrives with the chorus who are used to maximum effect, their sumptuous costumes providing spectacle alongside formidable singing and some gripping stage fighting scenes.

Henrik Nànàsi runs a tight ship from the pit and there is a good balance throughout with excellent offstage chorus work.

Michael Yeargan's gargantuan sets and Peter J Hall's opulent costumes make it worth the trip alone and this is topped off with some fine singing and a rich orchestral sound. Certainly a good example of just how grand the genre can be!

Reviewer: Louise Lewis

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