Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Les Indes galantes, Bavarian State Opera

Baroque opera has long been an important part of the Bavarian State Opera’s programming. And beyond the company itself, Munich’s tradition stretches back many years indeed: Kubelík’s Handel with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, for instance.

Don Giovanni, Bavarian State Opera

All told, this was probably the best Don Giovanni I have seen and heard. Judging opera performances - perhaps we should not be ‘judging’ at all, but let us leave that on one side - is a difficult task: there are so many variables, at least as many as in a play and a concert combined, but then there is the issue of that ‘combination’ too.

A dance to life in Munich’s Indes galantes

Can one justly “review” a streamed performance? Probably not. But however different or diminished such a performance, one can—and must—bear witness to such an event when it represents a landmark in the evolution of an art form.

Il barbiere di Siviglia, Glyndebourne Festival Opera at the Proms

For its annual visit to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, Glyndebourne brought its new production of Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia, an opera which premiered 200 years ago.

Béatrice and Bénédict at Glyndebourne

‘A caprice written with the point of a needle’: so Berlioz described his opera Béatrice and Bénédict, which pares down Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing to its comic quintessence, shorn of the sub-plots, destroyed reputations and near-bloodshed of Shakespeare’s original.

Der fliegende Holländer, Bavarian State Opera

‘This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.’ It is, perhaps, a line quoted too often; yet, even though it may not have been entirely accurate on this occasion, it came to my mind. Its accuracy might be questioned in several respects.

Evergreen Baby in Colorado

Central City Opera celebrated the 60th anniversary of The Ballad of Baby Doe with a hip, canny, multi-faceted new production.

Lean and Mean Tosca in Colorado

Someone forgot to tell Central City Opera that it would be difficult to fit Puccini’s (usually) architecturally large Tosca on their small stage.

Die Walküre, Baden-Baden

A cast worthy of Bayreuth made for an unforgettable Wagnerian experience at the Sommer Festspiele in Baden-Baden.

Des Moines’ Elusive Manon

Loving attention to the highest quality was everywhere evident in Des Moines Metro Opera’s Manon.

Falstaff in Iowa: A Big Fat Hit

Des Moines Metro Opera had (almost) all the laughs in the right places, and certainly had all the right singers in these meaty roles to make for an enjoyable outing with Verdi’s masterpiece

Die Fledermaus, Opera Holland Park

With the thermometers reaching boiling point, there’s no doubt that summer has finally arrived in London. But, the sun seems to have been shining over the large marquee in Holland Park all summer.

Nice, July 14, and then . . .

J.S. Bach’s cerebral Art of the Fugue in Aix, Verdi’s massive Requiem in Orange, Ibn al-Muqaffa’ ‘s fable of the camel, jackal, wolf and crow, Sophocles’ blind Oedipus Rex and the Bible’s triumphant Psalm No. 150 in Aix.

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance

The champagne corks popped at the close of this year’s Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance at the Royal Opera House, with Prince Orlofsky’s celebratory toast forming a fitting conclusion to some superb singing.

Prom 2: Boris Godunov, ROH

Bryn Terfel is making a habit of performing Russian patriarchs at the Proms.

Des Moines’ Gluck Sets the Standard

What happens when just everything about an operatic performance goes joyously right?

Des Moines: Jewels in Perfect Settings

Two years ago, the well-established Des Moines Metro Opera experimented with a 2nd Stages program, with performances programmed outside of their home stage at Simpson College.

First Night of the Proms 2016

What to make of the unannounced decision to open this concert with the Marseillaise? I am sure it was well intended, and perhaps should leave it at that.

La Cenerentola, Opera Holland Park

In a fairy-tale, it can sometimes feel as if one is living a dream but on the verge of being awoken to a shock. Such is life in these dark and uncertain days.

Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno in Aix

The tense, three hour knock-down-drag-out seduction of Beauty by Pleasure consumed our souls in this triumphal evening. Forget Time and Disillusion as destructors, they were the very constructors of the beauty and pleasure found in this miniature oratorio.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Plácido Domingo as Simon Boccanegra [Photo by Catherine Ashmore courtesy of The Royal Opera]
02 Jul 2010

Picture Perfect — Plácido Domingo as Simon Boccanegra, Royal Opera

Plácido Domingo isn’t a tenor, a baritone or even a singer. He’s a phenomenon. Dozens stood by the stage door at the Royal Opera House to greet him with bouquets.

Guiseppi Verdi: Simon Boccanegra

Paolo Albiani: Jonathan Summers; Piero: Lukas Jakobski; Simon Boccanegra: Plácido Domingo; Jacope Fiesco: Ferruccio Furlanetto; Amelia Grimaldi: Marina Poplavskaya; Gabriele Adorno: Joseph Calleja; Amelia’s maid: Louise Armit; Captain: Lee Hickenbottom. Orchestra of the Royal Opera House. Conductor: Antonio Pappano. Diuector: Elijah Moshinsky. Set Designer: Michael Yeargan. Costumes: Peter J Hall. Lighting: John Harrison. Royal Opera House, London, 29 June 2010.

Above: Plácido Domingo as Simon Boccanegra

All photos by Catherine Ashmore courtesy of The Royal Opera

 

The fans know he doesn’t need flowers. The flowers are symbols to thank Domingo for being who he is. He’s an institution, or as they say in Japan, a Living National Treasure.

Given Domingo’s hectic schedule and age, it’s a miracle that he sings at all. Yet the moment he appears, the atmosphere seems to ignite, though he shares the stage with luminaries like Ferruccio Furlanetto, Joseph Calleja and Marina Poplavskaya.

Domingo’s authority is all the more impressive because there aren’t any florid, crowd pleasing arias in the part. It’s not Boccanegra’s style. He’s a shrewd politician who lives on constant alert, surrounded by danger. Hence the austere vocal colour, cold steel and granite. Boccanegra reveals himself in declamation, not decoration, and in ensemble where he’s not exposed. Indeed the tension in Domingo’s voice at some points enhances his characterization of Boccanegra as a man ravaged by fruitless struggle.

Domingo was convincingly tender in the reconciliation scene with Amelia, but reached true heights later. His monologue “Ah! ch’io respiri l’aura beata del libero cielo!”was exceptional. Acting skills grow with experience, so even if a voice ages, a true artist like Domingo can bring out aspects in the character deeper than words alone. “Oh refrigerio!... la marina brezza!...”, he sings, as the strings oscillate eerily. Domingo at once portrays the old Doge, whose power brought no peace, and the heroic corsair he once was.

Antonio Pappano understands that this “breeze” is sinister, and that Boccanegra will soon be chilled by death. Pappano’s feel for the hidden depths in this opera manifested itself in the way he brought out the strange, wavering textures in the orchestration. Tragedy hangs on this opera like a shroud : there’s an implication that headstrong Adorno might one day end up as broken as Boccanegra. Yet Verdi writes with cool-headed stoicism. Sparse textures, solo melodies, intense restraint. In Act 3, the juxtaposition of wedding chorus and execution march is so destabilizing Verdi doesn’t need to overstate the horror.

The central relationship in Simon Boccanegra is between Boccanegra and Jacopo Fiesco. Patrician and plebian, old authority pitted against a new order. Ferruccio Furlanetto’s Fiesco is a strong counterbalance to Domingo’s Boccanegra. Furlanetto has stage presence enough not to be intimidated by Domingo’s aura. His vocal control, too, was so vigorous that he could only be faulted for sounding like a much younger man, not Amelia’s grandfather. But the plot is a means of expressing the titanic power struggle in 14th century Genoa. Much better that Furlanetto sounds forceful and potent.

When Domingo and Furlanetto sang the reconciliation, it was profound because what has gone before has been so intense, a battle between two formidable forces.

Amelia is the pivot on which the plot turns, though the love story is secondary to the hate story that pervades the background. Marina Poplavskaya sings Amelia so assertively that her Amelia is much more than a plot device. Poplavskaya captures Amelia’s charm but the firmness in the centre of her voice indicates strong personality. A girl with such genes would hardly be a cipher.

Calleja_et_al_Boccanegra_RO.gifFrom Left To Right: Joseph Calleja as Gabriele Adorno, Marina Poplavskaya as Amelia Grimaldi, Plácido Domingo as Simon Boccanegra and Jonathan Summers as Paolo Albiani

Joseph Calleja’s Gabriele Adorno is energetic so much the young hothead that it’s hard to imagine what he’d be when he becomes Doge. Calleja has personality in his voice, which makes it attractive.

Lukas Jakobski’s Pietro was impressive, too, since he’s still a Jette Parker Young Artist. He stands out, vocally as well as physically (he’s very tall). Jonathan Summers’s Paolo Albiani was good too.

Since this production has been revived over 100 times, it’s almost superfluous to comment, but theatre is as much part of an opera as singing. Otherwise we’d stick to concert performances.

The sets in this Simon Boccanegra, designed by Michael Yeargan are extremely beautiful, and musically intelligent, too. Chessboard marble floor — a hard foundation that adapts to changes in time and scene, like Genoa itself. It’s black and white, typically Italianate, but also evokes the black and white power struggle in the narrative. On the uprights appear words, sometimes in gold, and in Latin, like frescoes, sometimes roughly scrawled graffiti in Italian. Plebians and Patricians again. Literally, “The writing is on the wall”.

This is a very painterly production, inspired by Renaissance painting and architecture. Yet beauty alone isn’t enough on its own, as Verdi himself was to say of this opera. Fundamentally this isn’t a decorative opera, but an opera about extreme emotions, however repressed. The physical action in this production seems oddly lethargic and stilted. as if the parts are stepping out from a painting. It works, if you think of the production as a scene in a frame on a wall in a marble hall. Fortunately, the cast is so experienced that they can create their roles almost by instinct.

Domingo is a very important artist, and Simon Boccanegra is hugely significant for him. This Royal Opera House production of Simon Boccanegra will be broadcast internationally, online by BBC 2 television on Saturday 10th July at 7.30 pm London time. There will also be a BP Big Screen Live Relay on Tuesday 13th July at 7.30 pm London time at Trafalgar Square, Canary Wharf, Bradford, Bristol, Ipswich, Leicester, Manchester, Plymouth and Portsmouth. There will also be a concert performance at the BBC Proms, broadcast live, internationally, online and on demand. from 18th July.

Anne Ozorio

For more information, please see: www.roh.org.uk

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):