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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Simon Boccanegra - Melodrama in a Prologue and Three Acts (1881)
Simon Boccanegra, a sometime corsair and Doge of Genoa - Leo Nucci (baritone); Maria Boccanegra, Simon’s daughter known as Amelia Grimaldi - Tamar Iveri (soprano); Jacapo Fiesco, a Genoese nobleman - Roberto Scandiuzzi (bass); Gabrielle Adorno, a Genoese gentleman in love with Maria - Francesco Meli (tenor); Paolo Albiani, a courtier - Simone Piazzola (baritone)
Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro Regio, Parma/Daniele Callegari
Staging: Giorgio Gallione
Stage Director: Marina Bianchi
Set and Costume Designer: Guido Fiorato
Lighting Designer: Bruno Ciulli
Video Director: Tiziano Mancini
rec. live, Parma Verdi Festival, 23, 25, 28 March 2010
Sound Formats: DTS-HD MA 5.1. PCM Stereo
Filmed: HD 1080i; Aspect ratio: 16:9
Booklet languages: English, German, French
Subtitles: Italian (original language), English, German, French, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Japanese
Also available in DVD format
C MAJOR 724104 [137:00 +11:00 bonus]

Called Tutto Verdi, this series of the operas, plus The Requiem, is being issued to celebrate the bicentenary of the birth of Italy’s most celebrated composer. The performances are mainly based on the Teatro Regio, Parma, which is the most important opera house near his birthplace and home as well as being host to an annual Verdi Festival.
 
The title Tutto Verdi is misleading as the series omits two titles, these being Jérusalem and Aroldo. These are re-writes of earlier operas using some of the original music. The former derives from I Lombardi the composer’s fourth opera (see review in this series). Written to a French libretto for the Paris Opera, in my view it can well be considered a distinct work. The second is a rewrite of Stiffelio (see review in this series) taking away all the references to church activity, particularly a married priest that offended many audiences. It has an entirely new last act in a significantly more mature orchestral style than its progenitor.
 
The matter of re-writes can be seen as contentious in an endeavour such as this series, none more so than in respect of Simon Boccanegra. Verdi’s first version of the work was written for a commission from the Teatro la Fenice in Venice for the 1856-57 season; like Il Trovatore it was based on a play by Garcia Gutierrez. The subject was ideal for Verdi, involving both parent-child relationship and revolutionary politics. The political aspect caused the local censor to give composer and Piave, his librettist, a hard time despite the action being set in 14th century Genoa. The gloomy subject-matter, perhaps allied to Piave’s rather rambling libretto that includes a twenty-year gap between the prologue and the resumption of the plot, did not help audiences. At its premiere on 12 March 1857 Verdi’s 21st opera was in his own words “a greater fiasco than La Traviata”. The critics of the time wrote about the lack of easily remembered arias and melodies. A production at Naples went better but that at La Scala in 1859 was a bigger fiasco than Venice. The composer had moved his musical idiom much too far for his audiences and he wrote “The music of Boccanegra is of a kind that does not make its effect immediately. It is very elaborate, written with the most exquisite craftsmanship and needs to be studied in all it details.”
 
Although Simon Boccanegra fell into neglect Verdi regarded his composition with some fondness, believing the work to be more worthy than its initial reception and subsequent fate indicated. Consequently the possibility of revision and revival was never far from his mind. In 1879 he had written nothing substantial since his Requiem in 1874 and no opera since Aida ten years earlier. His publisher, Ricordi, raised the subject of a re-write of Boccanegra. Although in private he was seriously considering Boito’s proposals for an opera based on Shakespeare’s Otello, in public he gave the impression that he had hung up his pen. When Ricordi told Verdi that Boito, who was providing him with synopses and other suggestions for Otello, would himself revise Piave’s libretto, the composer agreed to undertake the task. The Otello project, codenamed ‘the chocolate project’, and a close secret, was put on hold but not forgotten The revised Simon Boccanegra was a triumph at La Scala on 24 March 1881 and it is in this later form that we know the opera today and which is featured on this recording.
 
The story of Simon Boccanegra concerns the political conflict between the Patricians of Genoa lead by Fiesco and the Plebeian faction. Fiesco’s daughter Maria has loved the eponymous corsair and borne him a daughter. In the Prologue Simon wishes to make peace with Fiesco and marry Maria. Paolo Albiani and Pietro, members of the Plebeian faction, propose to nominate Simon for Doge. He refuses until persuaded with the thought that if he were Doge Fiesco would be unable to thwart him but it is too late as Maria has died and her daughter, in Simon’s care, has disappeared. Twenty years later, in act one, the missing daughter is discovered as the unknowing ward of the incognito Fiesco. Simon discovers the fact after promising her hand to Paolo as reward for helping him to power. His reversal of that decision sets the scene for her later abduction. Simon, as Doge, tries to placate the differences between the parties in a new, highly dramatic scene that Boito added to act 1. This added scene takes place in the Council Chamber and is one of the mature Verdi’s most dramatic musical creations. Its music is clearly a near relative of that in Otello. Its drama contrasts sharply with the first scene of the act with its quiet E major chords that are so evocative of the sea and flowing tides and which precedes Amelia’s Come in quest’ora bruna (CH.10).Thismood, and that of the short prelude, reflects Verdi’s intimate knowledge of a town where he and his wife spent most winters and owned an apartment. As well as the addition of the Council Chamber scene there are many other differences between the 1880 revision and the 1857 original that make comparisons captivating for Verdi enthusiasts. An audio recording of the original version of 1857 is available from Opera Rara.
 
The booklet for this recording does not explain the fact that this staging had a previous life in Bologna under the direction of Giorgio Gallione. In the credits Marina Bianchi should, perhaps, be described as ‘revival director’. The original Bologna production is available on DVD from a performance in 2007. The costumes are in period whilst the set, dominated by a steeply raked mosaic floor, is often representational rather than realistic. The Fiesci Palace of the prologue is represented by large block-like structures, striped horizontally, one with a door for the funeral procession to exit. Elsewhere a moonlit garden and tree on the ubiquitous mosaic suffices. It is simple but effective and is enhanced by some creative lighting and curtain drops.
 
The solo singing is adequate and often more than that and dominated by Leo Nucci’s portrayal of the eponymous role, one of seven assumptions he takes in this Tutto Verdi Series. Whilst not of the quality of his Rigoletto (see review) his singing is powerful for a man of any age let alone one in his sixty-eighth year. There are moments in the Council Chamber scene where he shows signs of strain as he attempts to invest the drama of the words Plebi! Patrizi! as Boccanegra pleads with those present (CH.20), and then as he forces Paolo to in effect curse himself (CH.21), with a wide variety of vocal nuance and colour. In the Council Chamber scene in particular, Nucci seems to wish for more drama from the rostrum, justifiably in my view, where Daniele Callegari is somewhat flaccid and certainly no match for Abbado in the justifiably renowned CD recording that followed the Strehler’s La Scala staging (DG Originals). Nor in this scene is the staging at its best with the Doge at the top of a flight of stairs, somewhat divorced from the action below, rather than on a throne where he could better impose his histrionic will on those present.
 
Roberto Scandiuzzi as Boccanegra’s implacable foe, Fiesco, is sonorous and acts well without erasing memories of Christoff and Ghiaurov on CD, and more recently, Ferruccio Furlanetto on DVD (see review). The young Tamar Iveri as Amelia sings with warm womanly tone if rather too carefully and lacking the floated high notes of some renowned interpreters in her entrance aria (CH.10). Nonetheless she later creates a believable and involved character coming into her own in the dramatic scene and duets with her lover, Gabrielle Adorno, and father (CHs.26-30). As Adorno, Francesco Meli sings strongly with clear forward open tone. He acts well and seems easier at forte than in the few more reflective moments demanded of him. He has an appealing stage presence and I hope to hear more of him where the vocal demands are for a wider range. I did not rate his Riccardo from the 2011 Parma Festival performance of Un Ballo in Maschera in this series, finding his vocal strength allied to a hard edge and an overall monochromic tone that thins at the top. (See review). In this performance his acting and singing was well received by the audience. Notable by his steady sonorous singing and committed acting is Simone Piazzola as Paolo. I was impressed both by his acting as well as his singing. Although he has contacts on social network sites and an extensive repertoire and bookings I was unable to find a date of birth for him, but on the basis of this performance he could be an Italian hope to replace Nucci in the Verdi repertoire when the latter hangs up his vocal chords.
 
Simon Boccanegra comes in at eleventh of performances of Verdi operas and seventieth overall of all operas, after the likes of Berg’s Wozzeck and Tchaikovsky’s Pique Dame (Queen of Spades).  

Robert J Farr
 
 

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