Simon Boccanegra

Giuseppe Verdi, libretto by Francesco Maria Pave and Arrigo Boito
Met Opera on Demand
Metropolitan Opera House, New York
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Simon Boccanegra Credit: Metropolitan Opera

Giuseppe Verdi, having just had a success with Antonio Garcia Gutierrez’s Il Trovatore, thought he would repeat that success with another of Gutierrez’s plays; but Simon Boccanegra, which premièred in 1857, failed with the public. Even Verdi thought it was too monotonous, too cold, too sad and too desolate. The opera didn’t succeed until he rewrote it in 1881.

Few people have been able to follow the storyline. The opera is not on my list of favourite Verdi operas and I had hoped that this Met production, directed by Giancarlo Del Monaco and conducted by James Levine in 1995, might change my mind.

And especially since cast included Vladimir Chernov as Simon Boccanegra, Kiri Te Kanawa as Amelia, Plácido Domingo as Gabriele Adorno, Robert Lloyd as Fiesco and Bruno Paolo as Pola. Sadly, I found the production very stiff and old-fashioned; and the singers were generally too old for their roles.

The opera has no famous arias, hence its lack of popularity with the public What it does have, however, is strong characterisations. The opera is set in Genoa in the late 14th century during a clash between patricians and plebeians.

Simon Boccanegra, a former pirate, becomes the Doge. Chernov looks as if he might have been a pirate and gives a powerful and often a moving performance. A major high spot is the reunion with his daughter (Kiri Te Kawana). Father-daughter relationships always bring out the best in Verdi.

Other high spots include the celebrated Council Scene, Domingo’s tirade against the Doge and the final confrontation between the dying poisoned Doge and Fiesco which gives the opera a fine climax. Domingo is tremendously popular and Lloyd brings gravitas to every scene he appears in.

There are a number of ways of tapping into this opera and others at will. The Met Opera on Demand service offers annual ($149.99) and monthly ($14.99) subscriptions as well as a one-off payment ($3.99) for those who have limited time or only want to watch the occasional opera.

Reviewer: Robert Tanitch