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

Santa Fe: Secondary Mozart in First Rate Staging

Impresario Boris Goldovsky famously referred to La finta giardiniera as The Phony Farmerette.

Regimented Daughter in Santa Fe

At Santa Fe Opera, Donizetti’s effervescent The Daughter of the Regiment can’t quite decide what it wants to be when it grows up.

Santa Fe’s Celebratory Jester

Santa Fe Opera noted a landmark two-thousandth performance in their distinguished history with a stylish new production of Rigoletto.

Sibelius Kullervo, BBC Proms, London

Why did Jean Sibelius suppress Kullervo (Op7, 1892)? There are many theories why he didn't allow it to be heard after its initial performance, though he referred to it fondly in private.

Aïda at Aspen

Most opera professionals, including the individuals who do the casting for major houses, despair of finding performers who can match historical standards of singing in operas such as Aïda. Yet a concert performance in Aspen gives a glimmer of hope. It was led by four younger singers who may be part of the future of Verdi singing in America and the world.

Prom 53: Shostakovich — Orango

One might have been forgiven for thinking that both biology and chronology had gone askew at the Royal Albert Hall yesterday evening.

Written on Skin at Lincoln Center

Three years ago I made what may have been my single worst decision in a half century of attending opera. I wasn’t paying close attention when some conference organizers in Aix-en-Provence offered me two tickets to the premiere of a new opera. I opted instead for what seemed like a sure thing: William Christie conducting some Charpentier.

La Púrpura de la Rosa

Advertised in the program as the first opera written in the New World, La Púrpura de la Rosa (PR) was premiered in 1701 in Lima (Peru), but more than the historical feat, true or not, accounts for the piece’s interest.

Pesaro’s Rossini Festival 2015

The 36th Rossini Opera Festival in Rossini’s Pesaro! La gazza ladra (1817), La gazzetta (1816) and L'inganno felice (1812) — the little opera that made Rossini famous.

Santa Fe: Placid Princess of Judea

Unlike the brush fire in a distant neighborhood of the John Crosby Theatre, Santa Fe Opera’s Salome stubbornly failed to ignite.

Airy and Bucolic Glimmerglass Flute

As part of a concerted effort to incorporate local color and resonance into its annual festival, Glimmerglass has re-imagined The Magic Flute in a transformative woodland setting.

Glimmerglass Conquers Cato

Bravura singing and vibrant instrumental playing were on ample display in Glimmerglass Festival’s riveting Cato in Utica.

Energetic Glimmerglass Candide

Bernstein’s Candide seems to have more performance versions than Tales of Hoffmann.

Die Eroberung von Mexico in Salzburg

That’s The Conquest of Mexico, an historical music drama composed in 1991 by German composer Wolfgang Rihm (b. 1952). But wait. Wolfgang Rihm construed a few sentences of Artaud’s La Conquête du Mexique (1932) mixed up with bits of Aztec chant and bits of poem(s) by Mexico’s Octavio Paz (d. 1998) to make a libretto.

Scottish Sensation at Glimmerglass

Glimmerglass is celebrating its 40th Festival season with a stylish new production of Verdi’s Macbeth.

Norma in Salzburg

This Salzburg Norma is not new news. This superb production was first seen at the Salzburg Festival’s springtime Whitsun Festival in 2013 with this same cast. It will now travel to a few major European cities.

The power of music: a young cast in a semi-stage account of Monteverdi’s first opera

John Eliot Gardiner conducted a much anticipated performance of Monteverdi’s first opera L’Orfeo at the BBC Proms on 4 August 2015, with his own Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists.

Cold Mountain Wows Audience at Santa Fe World Premiere

On August 1, 2015, Santa Fe Opera presented the world premiere of Cold Mountain, a brand new opera composed by Pulizer Prize and Grammy winner Jennifer Higdon.

Manon Lescaut, Munich

Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at the Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich. Some will scream in rage but in its austerity it reaches to the heart of the opera.

Proms Saturday Matinée 1

It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in the present case.)

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Simon Boccanegra [Photo by Marty Sohl courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera]
01 Feb 2011

Simon Boccanegra, New York

A few years ago, a certain major newspaper boasted a music critic who could not bring himself either to take opera seriously or to deny himself the opportunity to review it.

Giuseppe Verdi: Simon Boccanegra

Amelia: Barbara Frittoli; Simon: Dmitri Hvorostovsky; Gabriele: Ramón Vargas; Fiesco: Ferruccio Furlanetto; Paolo: Nicola Alaimo; Pietro: Richard Bernstein. Metropolitan Opera, conducted by John Keenan. Performance of January 24.

Above: Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Simon Boccanegra

All photos by Marty Sohl courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera

 

The high jinks of opera were a thing he could never quite take seriously as music-making, perhaps because the melodramatic aspects of it, the colorful costumes and all that, offended him. He was also said to have a serious drinking problem, but let that pass. Simon Boccanegra, on its not infrequent Met revivals, came in for especial opprobrium: Drunk or sober, he could never make head or tail of the plot, and yet he would spend three or four paragraphs puzzling it through, mentioning the singers as an afterthought.

BOCCANEGRA_Frittoli_as_Amel.gifBarbara Frittoli as Amelia

There probably aren’t many people who go to Verdi operas for the sake of the plot, and if there are, Simon Boccanegra, which has a great deal of plot but doesn’t tie neatly together, is not the work to begin with. Verdi was intrigued by its moments of charged drama but he didn’t bother to fit the rest into a clear pattern. Those high points (Simon stumbling on his lover’s body in the dark and, a moment later, being acclaimed as Doge; Simon realizing that Amelia is his long-lost daughter; Simon quelling his riotous subjects in the Council Chamber scene while Amelia trills gorgeously over a ground bass of crowd noise; Simon dying of poison just as his daughter and son-in-law return from the nuptial altar) should be sufficiently exciting to quash your questions and carry you along. If they are not—if they are not well sung and played, or if you insist on puzzling through untied ravels of story—you are not going to have fun at Simon Boccanegra.

In recent years, Boccanegra has not always been cast to strength. There have certainly been worse Amelias than Barbara Frittoli, whose voice has the proper weight for a Verdi soprano, but her tone turns white and flat up top and she cannot sing softly up there (as every later Verdi heroine must be able to do). Too, she lacks that all-important trill. Ramón Vargas sings Gabriele Adorno with impressive urgency and well-judged voice placement, but the voice itself is no longer the lovely lyric tenor of ten years ago. Dmitri Hvorostovsky (in black wig for the prologue, his natural white locks for the remainder of the opera, set twenty-six years later) sings Simon the way he sings all Verdi: beautiful phrases with highly inappropriate gasping for breath in between them. This was not true when I first heard him sing this role, in Houston, a hall half the size of the Met, but it is always true when he sings Verdi at the Met. The house is too big for him or he just has not grasped how to produce Italian line here. But what other Verdi baritone does the Met have nowadays to take on the role?

Simon is a feast for low male voices. Ferruccio Furlanetto’s Fiesco had the same effect on the occasion that his King Philip had on the recent Don Carlo: Whenever he opened his mouth, the entire remainder of the cast seemed to sink into a provincial background, and we found ourselves in the presence of world-class singing. His acting, too, is full of dignity and pointed gesture, in the teeth of the absurdities required of Fiesco by director Giancarlo del Monaco. Fiesco is all about darkness and dignity, but del Monaco missed that memo and makes him a hysterical lout, raising his sword and roaring ineffectively around the stage at any opportunity. Furlanetto, purely by his low, velvet tones, reminded us that Fiesco is much more than that. Question to the Met: Why not give him Boris Godunov, a role that calls for just this sort of patriarchal authority? He sings the part to acclaim in out-of-the-way towns like Vienna and Venice.

BOCCANEGRA_Hvorostovsky_and.gifDmitri Hvorostovsky in the title role and Ferruccio Furlanetto as Fiesco

The Met has been shorthanded in the Verdi baritone field of late, but Nicola Alaimo, who made his first Met appearances as the murderous Paolo in this run of Boccanegra, is a most impressive addition to the field. His voice is dark and sizable, and he has no trouble projecting Paolo’s cynicism, his humor and, later, his vengeful rage. Pietro, his cohort, was sung effectively by the ever-useful Richard Bernstein.

James Levine had conducted the season’s first performance of this opera last week, but by the next one, which I attended, he was evidently done in by the previous day’s thrilling account of Das Lied von der Erde with the Met Orchestra at Carnegie Hall, and he cancelled his second Boccanegra. Standing in was John Keenan, new to me and in perfect charge of the score: Each of Verdi’s sinister brass snarls came across vigorously (Verdi invented this effect for Boccanegra and maintained it for thirty years, through Otello). The flutes sounded lustrous as clarinets in the father-daughter music, and quarreled nobly with the strings in the daring disharmonies that underline civil dissent in Genoa. Keenan gave us all the power and excitement required for Verdi but he never once drowned out the singers.

Simon Boccanegra is set in fourteenth-century Genoa, indeed was composed in part as Verdi’s tribute to one of his favorite cities, but you’d never guess that from Giancarlo del Monaco’s colorful production—which jumps over centuries in order to add color to a backdrop here, a ceiling there, and even hops to Venice now and then for the sake of a prettier set design. Different stage directors have reworked it over the years, clumsily by and large. Peter McClintock, who was in charge this time, has rid us of several awkward touches, and has persuaded the chorus not to move as if they were a junior high school assembly when, in fact, they are rushing onto the stage in a fury in order to overthrow the government.

John Yohalem

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):