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Giuseppe VERDI (1813–1901)
Simon Boccanegra
(revised version of 1881)
Simon Boccanegra – Placido Domingo
Amelia Grimaldi – Marina Poplavskaya
Fiesco – Ferruccio Furlanetto
Gabriele Adorno – Joseph Calleja
Paolo – Jonathan Summers
Pietro – Lukas Jakobski
Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden/Antonio Pappano
Elijah Moshinsky (Stage Director)
rec. live, Royal Opera House, London, July 2010
Region Code: 0, Sound Formats: PCM Stereo. DTS 5.1
EMI CLASSICS 9178259 [2 DVDs: 171:00]

Experience Classicsonline

This DVD captures one of the most celebrated events of the 2009-10 operatic year. Placido Domingo, the superstar tenor towards the end of an illustrious career, announced that, as his voice darkened, he would move to singing roles in the baritone repertoire. The role that he chose was one of Verdi’s greatest protagonists, Simon Boccanegra, the world-weary Doge of Genoa. Domingo sang it in four different productions at the Berlin Staatsoper, Milan’s La Scala, the New York Met and the Royal Opera House in London. We have here the memento of his London performances, to my knowledge the only one of the four that will receive a DVD release.
Domingo’s interpretation was greeted with mostly rave reviews by critics across the world and the London press fell over themselves to lavish praise on his Covent Garden performance. I was one of those lucky enough to get a ticket and the air of anticipation and excitement surrounding the event was such as I have rarely experienced at the Royal Opera House. What I experienced in the theatre was undoubtedly a first-rank evening, but I had doubts at the time which still linger now.
In an interview, included as an extra on the DVD, director Elijah Moshinsky, who here returned to manage this revival of his own production, said of Domingo that “He will not sing it as a baritone, and he will not sing it as a tenor: he will sing it as Placido Domingo.” Quite so, but the world’s music press seem largely to have accepted this unquestioningly as a good thing: I was far less convinced. Domingo undoubtedly has stature, presence and gravitas on stage and I would still travel a long way to see him perform, but the fact remains that the role of Boccanegra is written for a baritone, something which Domingo simply is not. Verdi knew what he was doing in crafting the role, giving it a particular colour which is especially important in the opera’s many ensembles. Whatever you think of Domingo’s performance you can’t deny that the sound-world of the opera is entirely different without a baritone in the title role.
There are some places where it certainly works very well, nowhere more so than in the recognition duet of Act I. In this, one of Verdi’s most moving scenes, Domingo convinces utterly as a jaded ruler whose heart is melted by finding the daughter he believed he had lost. The golden hue of his voice here sounds burnished with age and he is most moving in his portrayal of an old man who finds happiness too late. The death scene in the final act also carries real stature, convincing in its pathos. The trio at the end of Act II sounds good too, though the blend with his colleagues is rather too sharp.
The problems elsewhere are rather serious, however. He leads the Council Scene well, even though he sounds tired at times, but he cannot anchor the great ensemble with the authority and dominance that a lower voice would bring and, damagingly, the curse lacks weight, sounding too much like a breathy rant in places. The most serious problems come in the great duets with Fiesco at the beginning and end of the opera. In the Prologue Domingo sounds unstable with even a hint of a wobble and the voice clearly lacks the warmth and vigour it once had. Put next to a great bass like Ferruccio Furlanetto, Domingo sounds desiccated and threadbare: put bluntly, Furlanetto sings him off the stage! The same is true in the last act, though he is finer as the old Doge than as the young corsair. All of this meant that, for me, Domingo’s performance was definitely worth hearing and is interesting as a curiosity, but this DVD preserves an unrepeatable one-off, a version of this work that we couldn’t hear again and that, if I’m being honest, I’m not sure I would want to.
For me it was the rest of the cast that made the evening really special. As mentioned before, Furlanetto’s Fiescho is one of the great interpretations of the role, standing comparison with any on disc. The authority, grandeur and sheer presence that he brings to the old patrician have to be heard to be believed and EMI have done us all a service by preserving it here. Next to this old hand comes Marina Poplavskaya’s debut in the role of Amelia. Her dark voice sounds, to me, too large to convey the innocence that the likes of Freni or te Kanawa bring to the role, but she contributes something very special and she has the ability to ride high over the big ensemble in the Council Scene. Perhaps most arresting of all is Joseph Calleja’s performance as Gabriele Adorno. His is a hugely exciting voice with its own distinctive colour, bright and majestic but never forced, with a Mediterranean warmth that draws the ear in the great trio of Act 2. He also sings with a caution-to-the-winds intensity that reminds me of the young Carreras so that his aria and duet in Act 2 are among the highlights of the set. Jonathan Summers’ Paolo is blackly malevolent with a voice of insidious velvet, and ROH Young Artist, Lukas Jakobski, brings tone and depth to the small role of Pietro.
Moshinsky’s classic production looks great in 16:9 wide-screen and the picture quality is miles better than it had been for Decca’s 1991 DVD of the same production. The sets are open and suggestive while costumes are quietly sumptuous; they create the Genoese world without limiting the imagination. Pappano draws marvellous sounds from the ROH orchestra, warm and broad in the opening bars of the Prologue, shimmering like gossamer at the start of Act 1 and sounding exciting without being hard-driven in the Council scene. The 5.1 surround sound is also very good and the camera-work is fine, though some rather too specific focusing limits the effect of the crowd storming into the Council Chamber.
On balance, then, I enjoyed this DVD but it’s not a first choice. It must primarily be for committed fans of Domingo or for those who love the Covent Garden production. Most listeners would probably get more from the DVD from the Met starring Vladimir Chernov as a Doge of authority with a great supporting cast of Kiri te Kanawa, Robert Lloyd and Domingo in the tenor role of Adorno. Alternatively, if you’re not bothered about pictures, Abbado’s unbeatable CD set on Deutsche Grammophon is self-recommending.
Simon Thompson

See also review by Robert Farr












































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