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

An English Winter Journey

Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.

History Repeating Itself: Prokofiev’s Semyon Kotko, Amsterdam Concertgebouw

A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.

L’amour de loin at the Metropolitan Opera

Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.

La finta giardiniera at the Royal College of Music

For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.

Lust for Revenge: Barenboim and Herlitzius fire up Strauss’s Elektra in Berlin

As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra from the depths of her soul.

Semyon Bychkov heading to NYC and DC with Glanert and Mahler

Heading to N.Y.C and D.C. for its annual performances, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra invited Semyon Bychkov to return for his Mahler debut with the Fifth Symphony. Having recently returned from Vienna with praise for their rendition, the orchestra now presented it at their homebase.

Lost Stravinsky re-united with Rimsky-Korsakov, Gergiev, Mariinsky

Igor Stravinsky's lost Funeral Song, (Chante funèbre) op 5 conducted by Valery Gergiev at the Mariinsky in St Petersburg This extraordinary performance was infinitely more than an ordinary concert, even for a world premiere of an unknown work.

Philippe Jaroussky at the Wigmore Hall: Baroque cantatas by Telemann and J.S.Bach

On Tuesday evening this week, I found myself at The Actors Centre in London’s Covent Garden watching a performance of Unknowing, a dramatization of Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben and Dichterliebe (in a translation by David Parry, in which Matthew Monaghan directed a baritone and a soprano as they enacted a narrative of love, life and loss. Two days later at the Wigmore Hall I enjoyed a wonderful performance, reviewed here, by countertenor Philippe Jaroussky with Julien Chauvin’s Le Concert de la Loge, of cantatas by Telemann and J.S. Bach.

The new Queen of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Here is one of the next new great conductors. That’s a bold statement, but even the L.A. Times agrees: Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla’s appointment “is the biggest news in the conducting world.” But Ms. Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla will be getting a lot of weight on her shoulders.

Falstaff at Manitoba Opera

Manitoba Opera chose to open its 44th season by going for the belly laughs — literally — as it notably presented its inaugural production of Verdi’s Falstaff.

Gothic Schubert : Wigmore Hall, London

Macabre and moonstruck, Schubert as Goth, with Stuart Jackson, Marcus Farnsworth and James Baillieu at the Wigmore Hall. An exceptionally well-planned programme devised with erudition and wit, executed to equally high standards.

Rusalka, AZ Opera

On November 20, 2016, Arizona Opera completed its run of Antonín Dvořák’s fairy Tale opera, Rusalka. Loosely based on Hand Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, Joshua Borths staged it with common objects such as dining room chairs that could be found in the home of a child watching the story unfold.

First new Ring Cycle in 40 Years, Leipzig

Consistently overshadowed by the neighboring Bayreuth, the far less stuffy Oper Leipzig (Wagner’s birthplace) programmed after forty years their first complete Ring Cycle.

San Jose’s Beta-Carotene Rich Barber

You didn’t have to know the Bugs Bunny oeuvre to appreciate Opera San Jose’s enchanting Il barbiere di Sivigila, but it sure enhanced your experience if you did.

Manon Lescaut at Covent Garden

If there was ever any doubt that Puccini’s Manon is on a road to nowhere, then the closing image of Jonathan Kent’s 2014 production of Manon Lescaut (revived here for the first time, by Paul Higgins) leaves no uncertainty.

Fierce in War, dazzling in Peace: Joyce DiDonato at the Concertgebouw

Many opera singers are careful to maintain an air of political neutrality. Not so mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, who is outspoken about causes she holds dear. Her latest project, a very personal response to the 2015 terror attacks in Paris, puts her audience through the emotional wringer, but also showers them with musical rewards.

Simplicius Simplicissimus

I wonder if Karl Amadeus Hartmann saw something of himself in the young Simplicius Simplicissimus, the eponymous protagonist of his three-scene chamber opera of 1936. Simplicius is in a sort of ‘Holy Fool’ who manages to survive the violence and civil strife of the Thirty Years War (1618-48), largely through dumb chance, and whose truthful pronouncements fall upon the ears of the deluded and oppressive.

Lucia di Lammermoor at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its second opera of the 2016-17 season Lyric Opera of Chicago has staged Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a production seen at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and the Grand Théâtre de Genève.

Akhnaten Offers L A Operagoers Both Ear and Eye Candy

Akhnaten is the third in composer Philip Glass’s trilogy of operas about people who have made important contributions to society: Albert Einstein in science, Mahatma Gandhi in politics, and Akhnaten in religion. Glass’s three operas are: Einstein on the Beach, Satyagraha, and Akhnaten.

Shakespeare in the Late Baroque - Bampton Classical Opera

Shakespeare re-imagined for the very Late Baroque, with Bampton Classical Opera at St John's Smith Square. "Shakespeare, Shakespeare, Shakespeare....the God of Our Idolatory". So wrote David Garrick in his Ode to Shakespeare (1759) through which the actor and showman marketed Shakespeare to new audiences, fanning the flames of "Bardolatory". All Europe was soon caught up in the frenzy.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

29 Jun 2013

Thomas Hampson Simon Boccanegra, Royal Opera House London

Thomas Hampson's first Simon Boccanegra at the Royal Opera House makes this revival of Verdi's great opera worthwhile. It's a role which suits a singer of Hampson's intelligence.

Giuseppe Verdi : Simon Boccanegra

Paolo Albiani : Dimitri Platanias, Pietro : Jihoon Kim, Simon Boccanegra : Thomas Hampson, Jacopo Fiesco : Ferruccio Furlanetto, Amelia : Hibla Gerzmava, Gabriele Adorno, : Russell Thomas, Amelia's maid : Louise Srmit, Captain : Lee Hickinbottom, Conductor : Antonio Pappano, Director : Elijah Moshinsky, Set Designer : Michael Yeargan, Costumes : Peter J Hall, Lighting : John Harrison, Royal Opera House, London 27th June 2013

 

Boccanegra has been Doge of Genoa for many years. Boccanegra has survived because he thinks before he acts, and hides his feelings. Verdi doesn't write the part with florid, crowd-pleasing arias : 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..Despite his power and wealth, Boccanegra is isolated. Hampson's Boccanegra is a strong personality. He sings with dignified reserve, suggesting a man weary of the world and its intrigues. ”When he finds Amelia, the voice suddenly warms. "Figlia!" sings Hampson with genuine tenderness. You can hear the years falling away, and imagine Boccanegra as a young corsair, throwing caution aside for love. His monologue “Ah! ch’io respiri l’aura beata del libero cielo!” is created with such feeling that we realize that power has brought Boccanegra no peace. Thus he can hand the future to Amelia and Adorno without regret.

Three years ago, Plácido Domingo shrewdly chose the role as his debut as baritone because the technical demands are not great. The challenge is in the acting. Hampson doesn't have to worry about the fach, which fits him naturally. He creates the part with sensitivity, showing the Doge as man and father behind the stoic exterior.

When Hampson and Ferruccio Furlanetto sing together, the balance is superb, better than when Furlanetto sang the part with Domingo. Furlanetto sounds less youthful than he did before, which is more in keeping with the role, but remains forceful. The relationship between Boccanegra and Fiesco is perhaps even more significant than that between father and daughter. The two men have been struggling for decades. One is patrician, the other plebeian. Old authority is pitted against a new order. The power struggle gives the opera dramatic tension. Thus when Boccanegra and Fiesco are finally reconciled and sing together, the impact is profound. Hampson and Furlanetto are two titans, confronting one another and finding equilibrium.

Russell Thomas was an impressive Gabriele Adorno. Adorno is young and hot headed, as Boccanegra once was. Verdi gives him several showpiece arias, and Thomas rose to the occasion, and was heartily applauded. The audience seemed almost entirely comprised of first-time opera goers, which is heartening. He was last heard in London in March in John Adams' The Gospel according to the other Mary and in Donizetti's Belisario last October. He's no match for Joseph Calleja who sang Adorno with Domingo in 2010, but he's still young and promising.

Hibla Gerzmava made a pleasant role debut as Amelia, her voice particularly effective as the more mature Amelia in Acts II and III. Dimitri Platanias was a good Paolo Albiani, more relaxed and spontaneous than when he sang Rigoletto in 2012. Jihoon Kim made Pietro feel more than a minor character.

Although the orchestra seemed somewhat restrained at the beginning of the Prologue, it ignited, perhaps appropriately, when the citizens of Genoa proclaimed Boccanegra as Doge. Antonio Pappano is particularly good in this repertoire, capturing the fiery crowd scenes with great gusto. His command of subtle detail was even more perceptive. When Amelia sings the cavatina "come in quest'ora bruna" the childlike nature of her song is contradicted by the turbulence in the orchestra, as if Verdi is hinting of hard times ahead. When Boccanegra sings “Oh refrigerio!... la marina brezza!”, the strings oscillate eerily. Boccanegra remembers his youth, but this breeze is sinister, foretelling 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. Boccanegra's brief period of happiness with his daughter precipitates his death. Yet Verdi writes with cool-headed stoicism. Sparse textures, solo melodies, intense restraint, as strong -minded and unsentimental as the Doge himself. In Act III, the juxtaposition of wedding chorus and execution march is strikingly destabilizing. Happiness is a brief illusion, inevitably doomed.

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, designed by Michael Yeargan are beautiful, but also astute. The marble floor resembles a chessboard. Marble is cold and unyielding, like fate, and power politics in a troubled city state is a game of strategy. Immense doors and marble columns loom over the protagonists. Special mention should be made of the lighting design, by John Harrison, where the same set can be transformed to create different scenes and moods.

This is a very painterly production, inspired by Renaissance painting and architecture. Written words appear on upright surfaces : sometimes in gold and fresco-like in Latin, sometimes roughly scrawled graffiti in Italian. Literally, “The writing is on the wall”.Yet beauty alone isn’t enough, as Verdi himself was to say of this opera. Fundamentally this isn’t a decorative opera, but an opera about extreme but repressed emotion.. The weakness lies in the direction. Physical action 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. When Amelia and Boccanegra recognize who they are to each other, the orchestra wells up, but the encounter is suprisingly matter of fact. Fortunately, the cast is so experienced that they can create their roles almost by instinct.

Anne Ozorio

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):