Don’t let the presentation
put you off. Those who like DVD ‘extras’
(interviews with conductor, soloists
etc) will be disappointed as there are
none. Similarly there is no booklet,
only a synopsis printed on the box left-inside
that does not even subdivide into acts.
The actual performance
may be known to many anyway, as it has
certainly been broadcast on the BBC
at some point. It is an account I have
been familiar with for a while, and
have been generally fond of, although
hearing it in DVD sound only emphasises
Giancarlo Pasquetto’s unsatisfactory
portrayal of the titular role. On the
other side of the coin, it has the effect
also, though, of emphasising the sheer
vocal beauty and in-depth projection
of the ever-excellent Elena Prokina’s
Maria, and the wealth of experience
Alastair Miles brings to his Fiesco.
Running through the
opera is Mark Elder’s confident direction.
Speeds are well-chosen and he shows
excellent rapport with his singers.
The LPO play as if specifically formed
to play Verdi.
Of all of Verdi’s operas,
the orchestral input needs to be in
place. A story of political intrigue
as well as of (discovered) familial
rivalry (Boccanegra’s rival, Fiesco,
is it turns out, Amelia’s grandfather,
Gabriele her father) and, of course,
love (Gabriele and Paolo are rivals
for her hand in marriage). After 25
years of rivalry, Fiesco and Boccanegra
forgive each other towards the end.
Boccanegra, poisoned by Paolo, names
Gabriele as his successor.
The staging is, as
is appropriate for this work, on the
dark side. The long Prologue is set
at night in a piazza in Genoa, with
a church in the background. The scene
between Paolo and Pietro is instructive
as it gives us a chance to compare and
contrast Peter Sidhom and Daniel Borowski,
respectively. Sidhom is actually the
more vocally focused of the two, and
when alone, his sung hatred of politicians
is weak in comparison, a great shame
as it is on him that the opera focuses.
His vibrato is so bleaty that in his
worst moments he comes across as a baritonal
sheep. He suffers particularly in comparison
with the rock-steady bass of Alistair
Miles (magnificent recently as Silva
in Ernani at ENO
and no less magnificent here). The orchestra
and Elder seem to rise to Miles’ portrayal,
blazing in a reflection of his fury
in the scene with Simon and in the confrontation
about the missing child.
It is left to the beginning
of Act 1 for the first real treat however.
Elena Prokina sings one of the most
beautiful ‘Come in quest’ora bruna’
I have ever heard, her tone a shimmering
thing of wonder. Against her, the orchestra
(unusually) sounds on the literal side,
but the again she does sing like an
angel. Her Gabriele (David Rendall)
combines vocal heft with clear diction
- indeed the pair work remarkably well
together; later, it is Prokina who again
steals the show as she narrates her
history in Pisa. Her breath-control
is surely the envy of every singer.
vibrato continues to cause for concern
in Act 1 Scene 2, especially when heard
against Rendall’s ringing top, although
Boccanegra’s ‘Plebe! Patrizi! Populo!’
does in fact carry authority.
Watching the DVD though,
it does come as a bit of a surprise
that there is no applause after Act
1. We move straight through to Act 2,
where Sidhom and Borowski, against crepuscular
reds, appear with Sidhom a believable
manifestation of evil. If only Gabriele
(Rendall) had the dramatic power to
convince us of his jealousy, or the
lyric breadth required for his aria
Act Three reminds us
of the excellence of the chorus - initially
off-stage, blessing the wedding of Gabriele
and Amelia. It is perhaps in this act
that, musically, Verdi begins to look
forward to his greatest achievements.
For example, the way silence plays an
important part in dysjunct lines allotted
to Simon. Simon’s blessing of Gabriele
and Amelia (here with one hand on each
head) is a lovely moment, yet here it
could carry so much more significance
than Pasquetto allows. In comparison,
the purity of Prokina’s reaction is
almost cruel in its beauty.
is a remarkable piece of music and a
remarkable piece of theatre. It is also
problematic in its mix of political
intrigue and more human relationships.
All credit to Elder and his forces for
giving it a performance of such conviction.