Saturday, February 6, 2010

Viva Simon, del popolo l'eletto!!!

All three of those exclamation points, I would have you know, are in the libretto of Verdi's Simon Boccanegra. I have just finished listening to this opera, which I love, on the Met broadcast (sadly too busy to make it downtown) and am still a little choked up. I made the acquaintance of Boccanegra by seeing it absolutely cold in Frankfurt in 2007, in a strikingly successful minimalist production, with Zeljko Lucic unforgettable in the title role. While preparing oneself for a performance with some combination of score, libretto, recordings, and history may be the nobler path, I had a fantastic evening entirely caught up in the Hitchcockian suspense of Verdi's drama. This time, more prepared but scarcely less on the edge of my seat, I was treated to Placido Domingo as the Doge, the great James Morris as Fiesco, Adrianne Pieczonka as Amelia and Marcello Giordani as Gabriele Adorno. (Stephen Gaertner was Paolo; perhaps my greatest tribute to his performance is that I originally left him out of my list because of being angry at him. Who could hate Simon Boccanegra? Only evil, sneaky conspirators! Edit: Gentle Reader Bearitone has corrected my original listing of Nicola Alaimo in the role.)

Of course, the biggest question mark in this production may be: Placido Domingo as a baritone?? In one of the intervals, I think Adrianne Pieczonka, in conversation with Renee Fleming, put her finger on the secret of the success I think this was. "I don't think about him singing a baritone," she said (paraphrased); "I think about him singing. He's Placido." He is (and, parenthetically, gets extra kudos from me for his humor and customary charm when interviewed. Was it difficult, he was asked, to mentally make the jump of 25 years forwards between the prologue and Act I? No, no, he laughed. "It is harder to go backwards, to be young again! The cameras cannot look too close!" We'll love him even if they do.) Mr. Domingo may not have the size of past baritone greats who have tackled Simon Boccanegra, but I can't fault the beauty, command, and humanity of his Doge. I never fail to be awed by the fullness of this man's performances. James Morris, another consummate artist, made a brilliant and complex Fiesco, while Adrianne Pieczonka's Amelia was radiantly beautiful. Her Gabriele sounded strained at the top of his range, but still sang energetically and sympathetically.

Edit: Thanks to YouTube user gtelloz, Domingo and Morris in the Prologue, from the performance of 2 February... talk about a clash of titans!

Verdian excitement and suspense was brought by the excellent chorus (I love Verdi choruses) and the orchestra under the baton of Maestro Levine, whose return to health (and top conducting form, huzzah) I cheer. I feel very much like the easily-contented audience member in Goethe's Faust--"Ein Werdender wird immer dankbar sein"--and I did get a lot out of this opera, not least a happy confirmation of the spontaneous love I gave it in Frankfurt. Musically exciting, dramatically moving, full of moral dilemmas both political and personal, with great moments ranging from mob scenes to lovers' vows and father-daughter reunions, what's not to love? In closing, one of my favorite moments, this version from last year's Met anniversary gala (sadly cut off just before the end, but still lovely.)


  1. I recently read your review, dated February 6, 2010, of the Metropolitan Opera's recent HD presentation of Verdi's Simon Boccanegra. You had mentioned that Nicola Alaimo had sung the role of Paolo, but in fact the role was sung by Stephen Gaertner.

  2. Thanks very much! I don't know how I came to make that mistake. Do you know if it was a last-minute replacement?


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