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Dmitri Hvorstovsky (Photo: Pavel Antonov)
20 May 2007

Simon Boccanegra — Opéra national de Paris

Chief attraction of the Paris Opera’s new production of Simon Boccanegra was Dmitri Hvorostovsky in the title role.

Giuseppe Verdi: Simon Boccanegra
Opéra national de Paris, Opéra-Bastille, 10 May 2007


In all honesty the role is perhaps a little too large for his voice, especially in the cavernous acoustic of the Bastille, but he sings it attractively enough and in a few years I am sure he will develop the character with more weight and authority.

He was partnered more than adequately by the rest of the cast; as Amelia, Olga Guryakova’s singing was sweet if a little monochrome, and she looked lovely. Franz-Josef Selig showed some discomfort in the upper register but gave a believable performance. Evan Bowers was a slightly wooden Adorno and Franck Ferrari lacked presence as Paolo.

If none of the cast really made much of their characters, it was difficult to point the finger of blame at the singers. Rather, the problem lay squarely with Johan Simons’s ugly non-production, with designs by Bert Neumann. At the start, the Fieschi palace consisted of an orange platform topped by an enormous hoarding depicting the face of Fiesco; the Grimaldi abode was a glittering gold curtain in front of which the entire recognition scene took place, and from the council chamber scene onwards we were back to the orange platform, this time with Boccanegra’s picture instead of Fiesco’s. The council chamber had orange plastic chairs for one party, blue plastic chairs for the other — in a moment of unique tackiness the councilors picked them up to use as weapons against each other, like schoolchildren left unsupervised. There were no props, save for the aforementioned chairs and a big plastic bottle of mineral water for Boccanegra to drink from and be poisoned.

Even a misguided directorial concept would have been preferable to something which had no apparent sense of purpose or coherence at all.

Costumes (by Nina von Mechow and Philippe de Sant Mart Guilet) were little better, with everybody in a half-hearted attempt at modern dress; though he got off quite lightly during the prologue, poor Hvorostovsky spent the rest of the opera in a snazzy blue suit with an orange shirt and tie — in other words, matching the set, and looking every bit as cheap. All in all, there was really nothing to characterise the setting, nor to suggest who any of the characters actually were. The opera’s all-important class relationships went for nothing, there was hardly any meaningful interaction between the characters.

James Conlon conducted with commitment and energy for the most part, though Guryakova’s breath control was really put to the test by the exceptionally slow tempo of ‘Come in quest’ora bruna’. Other than some messy brass entries, the orchestra was on form.

The cast would surely have done better in a concert performance. As it was, I was left wondering how it was possible to make something so dull out of one of the most interesting, non-formulaic works in the Italian 19th-century repertoire.

Ruth Elleson © 2007

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