Monday, 3 December 2018

Profoundly beautiful: Simon Boccanegra at the Royal Opera

Verdi: Simon Boccanegra - Royal Opera (© 2018 ROH. Photograph by Clive Barda)
Verdi: Simon Boccanegra - Royal Opera (© 2018 ROH. Photograph by Clive Barda)
Verdi: Simon Boccanegra; Carlos Alvarez, Ferruccio Furlanetto, Hrachuhi Bassenz, Francesco Meli, cond: Henrik Nánási; Royal Opera House, Covent Garden Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 30 November 2018 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Revival of Elijah Moshinsky's classic, highly poetic production

Elijah Moshinsky's production of Verdi's Simon Boccanegra at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden dates back to 1991, and when I interviewed him in 2017 he was rightly proud of it [see my interview]. Rather embarrasingly we had never seen the production and so remedied that lack during the most recent revival.

Verdi: Simon Boccanegra - Carlos Alvarez - Royal Opera
(© 2018 ROH. Photograph by Clive Barda)
We caught Verdi's Simon Boccanegra at Covent Garden on Saturday 1 December 2018 with Ferruccio Furlanetto as Jacopo Fiesco, Carlos Alvarez as Simon Boccanegra, Hrachuhi Bassenz as Amelia, Francesco Meli as Gabriele, Mark Rucker as Paolo and Simon Shibambu as Pietro; Henrik Nánási conducted.

Elijah Moshinsky's production, with sets by Michael Yeargan, costumes by Peter J. Hall and lighting by John Harrison, is profoundly beautiful. It retains much of the magical atmosphere that Moshinsky wanted to create and many of the stage pictures resembled the Renaissance pictures which inspired them. Whilst the production is representational in a way that many modern productions are not, it is certainly not naturalistic and its artifice is designed to be part of the style. The result is highly poetic, and leaves lots of space for the singers. No staff director was credited for this revival.

For me, the strongest moments were in the Prologue and in Act Three, when the two opponents were on stage together, Fiesco and Boccanegra. Ferruccio Furlanetto made a powerful, black-voiced Fiesco, vividly capturing the stage whenever he was present. Perhaps the voice was showing signs of wear (Furlanetto is 70 next year) but this chimed in with the character, implacable yet weary and worn down. And he seemed to raise Carlos Alvarez's Boccanegra to great heights. The scene between the two in Act Three was terrific, two old men jostling, remembering old wounds. Alvarez's account of the great Council Chamber scene was very finely done, but his performance was a slow burn one and only in the death scene did we appreciate its cumulative power.

Verdi: Simon Boccanegra - Hrachuhi Bassenz, Francesco Meli - Royal Opera (© 2018 ROH. Photograph by Clive Barda)
Verdi: Simon Boccanegra - Hrachuhi Bassenz, Francesco Meli
Royal Opera (© 2018 ROH. Photograph by Clive Barda)
The remainder of the cast did not always reach the heights. Mark Rucker made an interesting Paolo with a terrific chip on his shoulder yet he did not always seem to be part of the action. Francesco Meli's Gabriele had some admirable solo moments, yet too often he relied on conventional histrionic acting, particularly in his Act Two scenes, and did have a tendency to push his lyric tenor voice a little too hard. This was a shame, as there was much to enjoy in the more intimate moments.

Hrachuhi Bassenz is an interesting singer with a fascinating voice which seems destined to play complex characters. She came into her own in the second half of the opera when Amelia is enmeshed in politics and the singer's sense of maturity and complexity fitted the dramaturgy. In Act One, however, she could not quite convey the simplicity and purity of the character, there was a sense of a powerful personality straining to get out.

Simon Shibambu made a fine Pietro, and his opening scene in the Prologue with Mark Rucker made for a very strong start.

Henrik Nánási conducted a lithe, fluent account of the score, one which perhaps did not relish the work's dark chocolate colours as much as it could, and which had a touch of the prosaic to it.

Verdi: Simon Boccanegra - Hrachuhi Bassenz - Royal Opera (© 2018 ROH. Photograph by Clive Barda)
Verdi: Simon Boccanegra - Hrachuhi Bassenz - Royal Opera (© 2018 ROH. Photograph by Clive Barda)
This was an interesting cast, with the Royal Opera's seventh revival of the production, and you felt that a stronger directional hand was needed to draw all the elements together.

Elsewhere on this blog:
  • Last Man Standing: Cheryl Frances-Hoad premiere at the Barbican  (★★★★) - concert review
  • One crazy day: Jonathan Dove on his new opera Marx in London which premieres at Theater Bonn  - interview
  • Landscapes of the mind: Anna Þorvaldsdóttir's Aequa (★★★½) - CD review
  • Antonio Caldara - cantatas for bass and continuo (★★★½) - Cd review
  • Viol music: RCM International Festival of Viols - concert review
  • Naturalism and realism: Puccini's La Boheme with Natalya Romaniw and Jonathan Tetelman (★★★★) - opera review
  • A 20th century monument: Hindemith's five brass sonatas  (★★★★) - CD review
  • Old Bones: Nico Muhly, Iestyn Davies and the Aurora Orchestra at Kings Place (★★★½) - concert review
  • Storytelling in music: Kevin Puts and his opera Silent Night - interview
  • Puccini premiere:  Opera Rara gives the original version of Le Willis a rare outing (★★★★) -  Opera review
  • Long time ago: Samling showcase at the Wigmore Hall (★★★★) - concert review
  • A series of concentric circles: Aaron Holloway-Nahum and the Riot Ensemble  - interview
  • Auf Flügeln des Gesanges: Romantic songs and piano transcriptions from Christoph Prégardien & Cyprien Katsaris (★★★★★) - CD review
  • The English Concert in Baroque concertos  - (★★★★) CD review
  •  Home

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