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Giuseppe Verdi: Simon Boccanegra
11 Jan 2011

Simon Boccanegra, Bologna 2007

This beautifully realized production of Verdi’s somber masterpiece of political intrigue and father/daughter reconciliation could be a complete success except for one missing element — memorable singing.

Giuseppe Verdi: Simon Boccanegra

Simon Boccanegra: Roberto Frontali; Amelia Grimaldi: Carmen Giannattasio; Jacopo Fiesco: Giacomo Prestia; Paolo Albiani: Marco Vratogna; Pietro: Alberto Rota; Capitano dei balestrieri: Enea Scala; Ancella di Amelia: Lucia Michelazzo. Chorus and Orchestra of Teatro Comunale di Bologna (chorus master: Paulo Vero). Michele Mariotti, conductor. Giorgio Gallione, stage director. Guido Fiorato, costume and set design. Daniele Naldi, lighting design. Recorded live from the Teatro Comunale di Bologna, 2007.

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The conducting of youthful Michele Mariotti finds all the pathos, beauty and drama of Simon Boccanegra’s score. Guido Fiorate provides both the traditional, beautifully detailed costumes and a brilliantly constructed abstract set. Where pertinent, an expansive background of blue suggests the sea. The winding streets of the town, suggestive of the labyrinthine politics, find shape in shifting walls of black and white stripes. Director Giorgio Gallione mostly avoids clichéd gestures, and with the best performers in the show, he prompts some fine stage acting.

Ultimately, however, the effect of all this accomplishment is muted by too much ordinary signing in principal roles. Right at the top, Roberto Frontali as the title character can only sing with satisfactory control at higher volume. He rarely attempts softer signing, and as the role proceeds, his tone loosens. In the key role of the Amelia, the daughter long lost to Boccanegra, Carmen Giannattasio comes on stage with what is arguably the opera’s best-known aria, a gorgeous set-piece that she mars with surprisingly mature tone (she is quite youthful and attractive). Later her voice settles somewhat but she is never able to offer anything distinctive in the role. Callow and routine, tenor Giuseppe Gipali sings the role of Amelia’s love interest, completing a trio of leads whose lack of energy and imagination drains much potential drama from the production.

There are two worthy performers. As Boccanegra’s rival, Giacomo Prestia avoids villainous cliché, retaining a sense of wounded dignity. The voice is more than dark and solid enough to impress as well. Marco Vratogna takes the smaller role of the scheming conspirator Paolo Albiani and steals every scene he is in. His is not the handsomest of voices, but it has real body, and he is a committed actor with a strong stage presence. Part of that presence is his handsome shaved head, which allows, in frequent close-ups, views of the mics used these days for optimal audio recording. If a viewer looks closely, other such mics can be seen in other performer’s hair/wigs. It’s unfortunate that in order to film the production with top quality sounds, the visual element has to be compromised with these mics. But that’s how it is.

Filmed versions of this opera don’t pop up all that frequently. Presumably the Metropolitan Opera will soon make available its recent HD movie-cast version, with Placido Domingo taking on the title role. He has more conviction than Frontali, and a more beautiful voice, but whether his is a voice appropriate for the role remains highly controversial. The rest of the Metropolitan cast is not particularly special, and the production is heavy and dark. So this Bologna version of Simon Boccanegra would be the DVD to beat, if only the singing were consistently effective.

Chris Mullins


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