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

Guillaume Tell, Covent Garden

It is twenty-three years since Rossini’s opera of cultural oppression, inspiring heroism and tender pathos was last seen on the Covent Garden stage, but this eagerly awaited new production of Guillaume Tell by Italian director Damiano Micheletto will be remembered more for the audience outrage and vociferous mid-performance booing that it provoked — the most persistent and strident that I have heard in this house — than for its dramatic, visual or musical impact.

Aida, Opera Holland Park

With its outrageous staging demands, you sometimes wonder why opera companies want to produce Verdi’s Aida. But the piece is about far more than pharaohs, pyramids and camels.

Death in Venice, Garsington Opera

Given the enduring resonance and impact of the magnificent visual aesthetic of Visconti’s 1971 film of Thomas Mann’s novella, opera directors might be forgiven for concluding that Britten’s Death in Venice does not warrant experimentation with period and design, and for playing safe with Edwardian elegance, sweeping Venetian vistas and stylised seascapes.

La Rondine Swoops Into St. Louis

If La Rondine (The Swallow) is a less-admired work than rest of the mature Puccini canon, you wouldn’t have known it by the lavish production now lovingly staged by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Emmeline a Stunner in Saint Louis

Few companies have championed new or neglected works quite as fervently and consistently as the industrious Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Luminous Handel in Saint Louis

For Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, “everything old is new again.”

Two Women in San Francisco

Why would an American opera company devote its resources to the premiere of an opera by an Italian composer? Furthermore a parochially Italian story?

Les Troyens in San Francisco

Berlioz’ Les Troyens is in two massive parts — La prise de Troy and Troyens à Carthage.

Dog Days at REDCAT

On Saturday evening June 13, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Dog Days, a new opera with music by David T. Little and a text by Royce Vavrek. In the opera adopted from a story of the same name by Judy Budnitz, thirteen-year-old Lisa tells of her family’s mental and physical disintegration resulting from the ravages of a horrendous war.

Opera Las Vegas Presents Exquisite Madama Butterfly

Audiences at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan first saw Madama Butterfly on February 17, 1904. It was not the success it is these days, and Puccini revised it before its scheduled performances in Brescia.

Yardbird, Philadelphia

Opera Philadelphia is a very well-managed opera company with a great vision. Every year it presents a number of well-known “warhorse” operas, usually in the venerable Academy of Music, and a few more adventurous productions, usually in a chamber opera format suited to the smaller Pearlman Theater.

Giovanni Paisiello: Il Barbiere di Siviglia

Written in 1783, Giovanni Paisiello’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia reigned for three decades as one of Europe’s most popular operas, before being overshadowed forever by Rossini’s classic work.

Princeton Festival: Le Nozze di Figaro

The Princeton Festival has established a reputation for high-quality summer opera. In recent years works by Handel, Britten, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Wagner and Gershwin have been performed at Matthews Theater on Princeton University campus: a 1100-seat auditorium with good sight-lines though a somewhat dry and uneven acoustic.

Die Entführung aus dem Serail,
Glyndebourne

Die Entführung aus dem Serail was Mozart’s first great public success in Vienna, and it became the composer’s most oft performed opera during his lifetime.

German Lieder Is Given a Dramatic Twist by The Ensemble for the Romantic Century

The Ensemble for the Romantic Century offered a thoughtful and well-curated evening in their production of The Sorrows of Young Werther, which is part theatrical performance and part art song concert.

Hans Werner Henze: Ein Landarzt and Phaedra

This was an adventurous double bill of two ‘quasi-operas’ by Hans Werner Henze, performed by young singers who are studying on the postgraduate Opera Course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

Dido and Aeneas, Spitalfields Festival

High brick walls, a cavernous space, entered via a narrow passage just off a London thoroughfare: Village Underground in Shoreditch is probably not that far removed from the venue in which Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas was first performed — whether that was Josiah Priest’s girl’s school in Chelsea or the court of Charles II or James II.

Intermezzo, Garsington Opera

Hats off to Garsington for championing once again some criminally neglected Strauss. I overheard someone there opine, ‘Of course, you can understand why it isn’t done very often.’

Cosi fan tutte, Garsington Opera

Mozart and Da Ponte’s Cosi fan tutte provides little in the way of background or back story for the plot, thus allowing directors to set the piece in a variety settings.

The Queen of Spades, ENO

Based on a play, Chrysomania (The Passion for Money), by the Russian playwright Prince Alexander Shokhovskoy, Pushkin’s short story The Queen of Spades is, in the words of one literary critic, ‘a sardonic commentary on the human condition’.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

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

Simon Boccanegra at the Proms

Proms audiences have a tendency to be overly enthusiastic in showing their appreciation, with an arsenal of rituals and traditions at the ready to show their praise and adulation for their idols.

Giuseppe Verdi: Simon Boccanegra

Simon Boccanegra: Plácido Domingo; Amelia: Marina Poplavskaya; Gabriele Adorno: Joseph Calleja; Jacopo Fiesco: Ferruccio Furlanetto; Paolo Albiani: Jonathan Summers; Pietro: Lukas Jakobski. Conductor: Antonio Pappano. Royal Opera Chorus. Orchestra of the Royal Opera House. Director: Elijah Moshinsky. Costume Designer: Peter J. Hall. Royal Albert Hall, London. Sunday 18th July 2010.

Above: Plácido Domingo as Simon Boccanegra [Photo by Catherine Ashmore courtesy of The Royal Opera]

 

But, the ovation which greeted the conclusion of this semi-staged performance of Verdi’s dark, brooding Simon Boccanegra was wholly justified — for once the reality more than lived up to the hype.

Of course, the anticipation — with Proms managers predicting queues for Arena day tickets stretching into Hyde Park — was largely for Plácido Domingo, returning to the stage just a few months after treatment for cancer, in his new guise as a baritone.

Domingo may profess that his decision to abandon his place as one of the ‘Three Tenors’ was not merely one of expediency but driven by a life-long desire to sing one of Verdi’s greatest roles, the 14th-century Genoan patriarch, Simon Boccanegra. In fact, for some time Domingo has been uncomfortable at the upper end of his tenor range; indeed, he has of late asked conductors to transpose roles downwards. But, his voice has always been characterised by a dusky, baritonal colour, and here he seemed liberated, relishing the soaring lines of the role, while elsewhere adopting an appropriately weary tone. While dramatically this captured the complexities and contrasts of this imperfect man — a ruthless, swashbuckling pirate reluctantly recruited as leader of a warring community of aristocrats and plebeians — musically it turned the role upside down: for the low, conversational phrases sounded effortful while the tense melodic peaks projected with ease. For Domingo’s baritone is a fairly light voice, lacking a genuine heft, and some might prefer a more burnished tone, particularly in the lower register where Domingo used his chest to strengthen and reinforce the sound. However, one can overlook such matters when presented with such a convincing characterisation, for Domingo truly embodied the tragic grandeur and dignity of the careworn ruler.

A flop at its premiere in 1857 — and performed here in the revised 1881 version — Simon Boccanegra remains one of Verdi’s most convoluted plots. There are several tangled strands, characters have multiple names and identities, and it would be a fruitless endeavour to attempt to unravel the complications. However, while this performance may have been only semi-staged, there are other ways of conveying the emotional meaning of the music than busy stage action and clever directorial tricks. Domingo perfectly communicated the trauma and torment of the troubled Doge; and especially impressive was the relationship he forged with Amelia, sung by Russian soprano Maria Poplavskaya, in their tender reconciliation scenes. Poplavskaya’s opening aria was pitch-perfect and serene, and although at times her soprano lacked the necessary shimmer, she successfully conveyed both the vulnerability and feistiness of Amelia, as she stands up to her domineering father.

But this performance was not just about Domingo and the superb ensemble cast was inspired by the occasion, the company and by Verdi’s music. Singing the role of Adorno, tenor Joseph Calleja almost stole the show; Calleja has a secure Verdian technique, strong in tone and projection, subtle in dramatic nuance. His Act 2 aria was electrifyingly ardent and justly inspired the loudest applause of the night. There were rumours that Ferruccio Furlanetto might be indisposed but such fears proved unfounded, and he was a typically imposing and dignified Jacopo Fiesco, his gleaming, sonorous bass easily filling the cavernous auditorium. Bass-baritone Jonathan Summers, completing the cast as Paolo, lacked tonal brightness and stamina but was dramatically effective as the Iago-lile villain, oozing menace.

Truly at home in this repertoire, Antonio Pappano commanded the orchestra of the Royal Opera House with a blend of passionate abandon and absolute control, delighting in Verdi’s instrumental tapestry and drawing musical pictures of great feeling and finesse. The ensembles, especially the Act 2 trio and the Council Chamber scene, were particularly well-shaped. Pappano’s players rose to the occasion, producing committed and superlative playing with a genuinely Verdian tinta.

Plácido Domingo has had a long, varied and illustrious career, as tenor, conductor, artistic director (at the Los Angeles Opera and the Washington National Opera), always seeking out new musical experiences and personal challenges, and this clearly continues. In 1959, aged just 18-years-old, he auditioned for the National Opera in Mexico City as a baritone, and was told by the impressed jury that he was not really a baritone and should be tackling tenor roles — so began a celebrated and distinguished career. Now things have come full circle. But one can’t help feeling that the auditioning panel was in fact correct — Domingo was and is a tenor: the overall colour and bright ‘edge’ of his voice remain those of a tenor regardless of the register. However, whether this ‘project’ is a personal indulgence or a brave experiment, it is one which is fully justified by the musical outcome. Domingo told one recent interviewer, “After Boccanegra … I will probably say Amen.” Simon Boccanegra may spend the second half of the opera melodiously dying a drawn-out death by poisoning but, fortunately, Domingo does not yet sound ready to stop.

Claire Seymour

Click here for audio clips of this performance.

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):