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S & H International Opera Review

Verdi, Simon Boccanegra, Opèra de Paris-Bastille, November 12, 2002 (FC)


The opening night performanceof Simon Boccanegra at the Paris Opera-Bastille. Juan Pons (Boccanegra), Barbara Frittoli (Amelia) and VincenzoLa Scola (Gabriele). Photo credit: Eric Mahoudeau.

This had all indications of being a "filler" in the Paris Opera season. A revival of an unimaginative production by Nicholas Brieger from 1994, it featured in the title role the often-heard, serviceable, but not very exciting baritone, Juan Pons, in the title role. It also suggests the difficulty the major opera houses have finding voices to properly sing the major works of Giuseppe Verdi in recent years.

Pons, as Boccanegra, marked time and husbanded his now-limited resources to get through this challenging role. He managed without unpleasantness but there was very little of the drama that Verdi intended for this tragic hero. Veteran Italian bass Ferruccio Furlanetto generated a few more sparks in his role of Fiesco. Another disappointing appearance was that of the La Scala star soprano Barbara Frittoli. She sang the role of Amelia with healthy but unvaried vocal force and her sole attempt at interpretative emotion was to sing behind the beat, which she did frequently. When this writer last saw her in Paris it was a concert conducted by Riccardo Muti and this annoying habit was not then in evidence. The two magnificent father-daughter scenes in this opera, normally a Verdian high-point, were emotionally flat.

It was tenor Vincenzo La Scola who made the most impressive appearance. Not usually regarded at the top of the tenorial ranking, his Gabriele was sung with intelligence and dramatic engagement. He so stood out from the other monochromatic performers it seemed as if he was from another world. The two other roles, the Paolo of Vassili Gerello and the Pietro of Nicholas Testé, were well sung. But the team assembled by the Paris Opera for the revival of this dark masterpiece, effectively revised with the assistance of Arrigo Bioto in the new version of 1881, left it with no noticeable dramatic pulse and it remained lifeless until the end.

The villain of the evening could have been the uninspired conducting of Pinchas Steinberg or it could have been the restaging by Alejandro Stadler who gave singers little to do but to walk on, sing and walk off. The production featured mostly unattractive sets, little pageantry and the only noticeable "crowd scene" was to witness the improbable last act wedding ceremony which takes place in the hours after a bloody rebellion was ruthlessly smashed and minutes before the Doge dies. This idea - having the young lovers appear as a wedding cake couple, complete with bouquet toss - is not found in the libretto but must have been part of the director's original stage plan. It was an odd, jarring image in the opera's powerful final scene. This, the sixth opera in the current Opèra de Paris season, is running until November 27.

Frank Cadenhead



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