13 Nov 2012

Simon Boccanegra at Lyric Opera, Chicago

In its current production of Simon Boccanegra Lyric Opera of Chicago draws on vocal strengths as well as musical and stage direction that do honor to Giuseppe Verdi’s masterpiece of political and emotional intrigue in fourteenth-century Genoa.

Baritone Thomas Hampson and bass Ferrucio Furlanetto perform roles for which they are celebrated: Mr. Hampson as the seaman Boccanegra elected Doge and Mr. Furlanetto as Jacopo Fiesco, father of the woman whom Boccanegra has seduced prior to the opera’s action. Boccanegra’s daughter by this latter union, known variously as Maria and Amelia, is performed by Krassimira Stoyanova in her debut with the company. The man whom she loves and whose political ambitions oppose Boccanegra’s, Gabriele Adorno, is sung by tenor Frank Lopardo. The villainous Paolo Albiani, who at first supports Boccanegra and eventually plots to overthrow and assassinate him, is taken by baritone Quinn Kelsey. Sir Andrew Davis conducts the Lyric Opera Orchestra and Martin Wright is the Chorus Master. This production is also used by the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

The prologue of Simon Boccanegra, predating the action of the opera proper by twenty-five years, weaves neatly the political and emotional strands that will continue to determine the course of events for the following decades. At the start of the prologue Paolo and his associate Pietro, the latter sung by Evan Boyer, conspire to have Simone chosen as Doge. Mr. Kelsey impresses already from this early scene with his legato and well-projected, rich timbre. The promises for complicity made by Kelsey’s Paolo to Pietro, with a vivid emphasis forte on “honore” lead to the next scene where he must persuade Boccanegra to accept the duties of such an office. At his entrance Mr. Hampson’s Simone seems aloof to political involvement, until Paolo reminds him that he may use the Doge’s position to marry his beloved Maria Fiesco. Simone’s assent prompts the quick response of the populace in his favor. Paolo’s further warning about the Fiesco family, and its proud leader Jacopo who is father of Maria, elicits a chilling intonation by Kelsey on “anima infernale” [“infernal soul”] before his departure.

At the entrance of Fiesco Mr. Furlanetto establishes his character immediately by denouncing in a curse laden with vocal tremor Simone as the “vile seduttore” [“wretched seducer”] of his daughter Maria, who has now died. Fiesco’s noted aria, “Il lacerato spirito” [“The tormented spirit”] is sung by Furlanetto with palpable feeling and a fine sense of Verdi’s line. His repeated bass notes on “Prega, Maria, per me” [“Maria, pray for me”] at the close of the aria seems to come with Fiesco’s last breath of emotional control. In the subsequent duet with Simone, Furlanetto’s Fiesco retains the upper hand in demanding Maria’s child from Simone as the only grounds for reconciliation. When this condition cannot be met since the child is lost, Furlanetto’s unyielding and extended bass line on “Addio” underlines Fiesco’s resolution to remain an enemy. Still unaware of Maria’s death Simone determines to search for her in the Fiesco palace. Hampson’s expression of her “pura beltà” [“pure beauty”], sung with an impressive bel canto adornment, is interrupted when he discovers Maria’s corpse. The prologue ends with orchestral fanfare and the ringing of bells as the crowd proclaims a distraught Simone as their Doge.

At the start of the opera proper the two remaining personalities are introduced. Amelia Grimaldi, the adopted identity of the lost daughter of Boccanegra and his beloved Maria, appears alone as the Act I commences. She muses on the star, the sea, and her lover whose absence is unpredictable. Ms. Stoyanova sings this opening aria, “Come in quest’ ora bruna” [“How in this dark hour”] with a shade of melancholy, as her voice opens from a strong middle register to touching floods of emotion on higher pitches. Once her lover Gabriele Adorno appears their duet reinforces an emotional devotion as well as apprehensions concerning others who may signal a threat to their happiness. Mr. Lopardo as Gabriele is a well-matched partner to Stoyanova’s Amelia. In the first duet their voices weave together while they echo bonds of spontaneous feeling. Transitions from piano to dramatic excitedness are taken convincingly by both singers in erratic expressions of shifting emotion.

Two additional duets in this act deserve mention. Amelia’s guardian Andrea, the subsequent identity of Fiesco from the prologue, must be approached for his blessing of the potential marriage with Gabriele. Furlanetto’s Andrea accedes to the plea with admirable legato on “Nella pace di quest’ ora” [“in the peace of this hour”] as Lopardo’s Gabriele alternates tasteful high pitches with a softer line in “Eco pia del tempo antico” [“Holy echo of ancient times”]. In the following scene Simone recognizes his daughter Maria in Amelia by virtue of a portrait in the locket she wears. The well-known duet between father and daughter [“Figlia! A tal nome io palpito” (“Daughter! At such a name I tremble”)] is fittingly moving while also suggesting through song the new world that has opened.

Hampson’s vocal skill is here especially effective as his line rises in decorative embellishment on “Un paradiso il tenero padre ti schiuderà [“Your loving father will create a paradise for you”]. Both he and Stoyanova return to piano declamation as they conclude this tender exchange. In a concluding scene Paolo reappears to press his own cause in being granted the hand of Amelia, yet Simone remains unwilling. Paolo’s reaction and the questionable loyalties of Gabriele lead to a major confrontation in the public chamber of the Doge. As Hampson’s Simone pleads feelingly for “Pace,” Stoyanova injects an exquisite rising melisma into Amelia’s line and the act draws to a close.

In the second and third acts of the opera the character and fortunes of Paolo grow bleaker just as Gabriele redeems himself in Simone’s eyes. Paolo’s initiation of the plot to kill Simone elicits no support from Andrea yet the position of Gabriele remains ambiguous until the promise by the Doge to Amelia that her lover will be pardoned. The trio sung by Simone, Amelia, and Gabriele, “Perdon, Amelia,” shows the singers well integrated with appropriate decoration and top notes performed by Lopardo. In the final act the sadness of death is inevitable despite the joyous wedding to be celebrated between Amelia and Gabriele. With Simone dying from the poisoned water that Paolo had left on his table, the duet of reconciliation, “Piango, perché mi parla,” [“I weep because the voice speaks to me”] between the Doge and Fiesco remains a final highlight of this dramatically satisfying and well conceived production.

Salvatore Calomino