Archive for the ‘Verdi’ Category

La Traviata, with Bobro, Grigolo and Gavanelli, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, 23 January 2012.

24 January, 2012

This performance on January 23 was to have been the first of two with Ermonela Jaho as Violetta, and Vittorio Grigolo as Alfredo, but Ms. Jaho was unwell and her place was taken at the last minute by Slovenian soprano Bernarda Bobro, making her debut at Covent Garden. She has recently sung the role in Estonia, Schleswig-Holstein and Stuttgart, and worked with the Royal Opera House cast throughout the rehearsals, so she was well placed to fit into the production, and gave a fine performance.

Vittorio Grigolo and Bernarda Bobro

This reminds me of 17th January 2008 when Ermonela Jaho took over from Anna Netrebko in the same production. Act I is a tough one to pull off for Violetta, veering from party girl to someone who wonders whether she should continue disdaining love in favour of her life of arid pleasure. Ms. Bobro’s voice sounded a bit light here but her top notes were glorious, and in the scene with Paolo Gavanelli as Alfredo’s father in Act II she really came into her own, both of them beautifully restrained, yet dismissive and finally respectful of one another. Great stuff, preceded of course by Vittorio Grigolo giving vent to his frustrations and his boundless love for Violetta. Huge applause from the audience, and at the end of the opera Mr. Grigolo came forth to claim his due, holding his heart and opening his arms to centre, left and right. His singing was superb, as was his acting in Act III as Violetta is dying. He stood rooted to the spot, until his father gestured to him to go to her.

Paolo Gavanelli as Germont

This Richard Eyre production still works very well indeed. It has an intimate quality sometimes lacking in Traviata, and in the final act I love the big mirror where Violetta sees fleeting visions of her past life. Hanna Hipp was lovely as her maid Annina, and the way Jean Kalman’s lighting falls on her and Violetta at the start of the final act is a work of art.

With fine musical direction from Maurizio Benini in the orchestra pit, the principals, Bobro, Grigolo and Gavanelli were wonderful together. It’s always interesting to see how the baritone plays Afredo’s father — there are so many possible interpretations — and Paolo Gavanelli gave it a memorably restrained gravitas. But main plaudits must go to Bernarda Bobro who was surely not expecting to be on stage, and her very pretty voice infused the role of Violetta with a quiet tragedy. At the end she looked so young, and so washed out, that one could believe her life had come full circle far too soon. The frail one could live no more.

The other performance with the same cast is on January 25, again with Bernarda Bobro as Violetta  — for details click here.

Placido Domingo Celebration, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, October 2011

28 October, 2011

Celebrating the 40th anniversary of Domingo’s first appearance at the Royal Opera House (as Cavaradossi in Tosca), this was a three-part Verdi programme featuring the final acts of Otello, Rigoletto and Simon Boccanegra, and amply demonstrating his superb sense of drama. Domingo is a consummate artist — not just a wonderful singer, but a terrific actor. When I lived in Chicago I remember him appearing as Idomeneo, taking over the role from another performer part way through the run. We understood he had only flown in to town that afternoon, and when he climbed out of the ship at stage rear he was quite obviously exhausted. Was this man of huge energy overdoing it? No, not at all — he was just acting! Domingo does exhaustion, grief and tender emotions better than anyone, and tonight he proved it.

The last act of Otello starts with Desdemona, performed here by Marina Poplavskaya with a gloriously pure voice, singing a lovely ‘Willow Song’, and giving full rein to Emilia addio! Then as Otello entered, Domingo’s stage presence was riveting and the act gradually drew to its inevitable tragic conclusion. Sets, costumes and lighting all helped, and this was from the 1987 Elijah Moshinsky production. Stabbing himself towards the end and dragging himself along the floor were the actions of a dying man who has lost everything.

All from the Royal Opera House

The final act of Rigoletto followed after the first interval, in the David McVicar production from the current repertoire. When Domingo as Rigoletto and Ailyn Perez as a sweetly sung Gilda crouch down outside Sparafucile’s tavern, you feel for his role as a father, and then of course he makes his fatal mistake. Rather than accompany her home after her nasty shock at seeing the Duke protesting love to another woman, he sends her off to Verona and stays to ensure the Duke’s death. The determination is all too real, and the sack with the dead body all too realistic as he drags it off. The whole cast assisted Domingo’s fine performance, with Francesco Meli as the Duke, Paata Burchuladze as Sparafucile, whose final Buona notte was powerfully sung, and Young Artist Justina Gringyte as a coarse but subtle Maddalena.

After these two final scenes there was more to come, and Simon Boccanegra brought the evening to a fitting end. A huge sound from the chorus at the start of Boccanegra’s final act was followed by Jonathan Summers as a strong Paolo, and then a superb dialogue between Domingo as Boccanegra and Paata Burchuladze as Fiesco. Boccanegra is dying from a slow and deadly poison, and not quite aware to whom he’s talking at first, but things warm up as he explains who Amelia/Maria really is, and when Marina Poplavskaya (Amelia) enters and temporarily takes a place between the two older men the sight is perfection: Boccanegra’s red robe and white undershirt, her glorious blue dress, and Fiesco’s black cloak with dark blue shirt. As the characters move, each scene is like a painting in this original 1997 Ian Judge production (adapted to a later version of the opera in 2008). Francesco Meli has entered as Adorno, along with his beloved Amelia, and Boccanegra tells Fiesco to make him the new Doge, Tu, Fiesco, compli il mio voler … Maria!! Exhausted he falls to the floor. È morto … Pace per lui pregate! It doesn’t get any better than this. Domingo does exhaustion, grief and tender emotions so well, but he does death too, and no one does it better.

At seventy years old he is amazing and seems to have a new lease of life in the baritone repertoire. He will be sorely missed when he finally retires, but in the meantime with Antonio Pappano’s wonderful conducting from the orchestra pit we are fortunate indeed to continue seeing him perform.

Rigoletto, Opera Holland Park, OHP, July 2011

1 August, 2011

This was a terrific performance of Verdi’s Rigoletto in a simple but very effective staging. The set was essentially two large shipping containers, one serving principally as Rigoletto’s residence and the other as Sparafucile’s tavern.

Rigoletto after the abduction, all photos by Fritz Curzon

The first scene, of libidinous fun, with oligarchs in black tie and sexy girls in red slit skirts, worked well and never went over the top, and Monterone’s entrance and curse were powerfully done. It’s only a small role, but William Robert Allenby played and sang it for all it was worth. He was in good company with Jaewoo Kim as a stylish Duke with a beautiful voice. His soliloquy at the start of Act II showed real longing, if only of a temporary nature, yet he also managed the insouciance one expects of this libertine. His convincing charm to the ladies made it entirely understandable that Rigoletto’s daughter Gilda, and Sparafucile’s sister Maddalena should want to save his life. These darker characters, Sparafucile and Maddalena, who are willing to bend to Rigoletto’s vengeance were convincingly performed by Graeme Broadbent and Patricia Orr.

Gilda and Rigoletto

Rigoletto himself was brilliantly sung and performed by Robert Poulton. He didn’t overdo the nastiness of this character, as sometimes happens, yet his determination to take revenge came over very well when he makes the fatal mistake of telling his daughter to go home alone, after showing her the Duke’s real character. He also showed the softer side of his own character in dialogues with his adored Gilda, and Julia Sporsén sang her beautifully, very ably portraying this young woman’s emotional state in a virtual scream at the end of Act II when she admits that the Duke betrayed her but still pleads for his pardon.

Maddalena and the Duke

The production by Lindsay Posner, with designs by Tom Scutt, had some unusual and rather effective features. In the tavern scene of Act III, Sparafucile is watching football on television, and when the Duke bursts into La donna è mobile the picture suddenly changes to Pavarotti singing the same aria. The Duke grabs the remote control, presses the off-button and carries on, using the remote as if it’s a microphone — just the right point for a lighter moment. Then in the final scene when Rigoletto opens the sack to find his daughter inside she appears on top of the shipping container that served as their house, giving us a voice disembodied from the dead body in the sack. It’s a clever touch, because it always seems rather odd that Gilda can still be alive in the sack that Sparafucile hands over, let alone having the strength to sing.

Excellent conducting by Stuart Stratford with the City of London Sinfonia, and this wonderful production with its fine cast can still be seen until August 13 — for details click here.

Simon Boccanegra, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, June 2011

9 June, 2011

At the end of this opera, Boccanegra is finally reconciled with his arch-enemy Jacopo Fiesco, and blesses the marriage of his long lost daughter Amelia with the young Gabriele Adorno, a previously sworn enemy. Now, dying of a slow poison, administered by his right hand man Paolo, he asks Fiesco to make Adorno his successor as Doge of Genoa.

The Prologue with Fiesco in the foreground, all photos Mike Hoban

Powerful stuff, and Verdi was a master of expressing father-daughter relationships, but in this production, Amelia who has been — quite rightly — adoring and protective of her father, is suddenly shown to be unable to embrace him as he asks her to when he’s dying. Instead of the opera ending with his peaceful death on stage, he wanders off-stage in a strange paper hat, and she suddenly rushes after him, returning in anguish. As the music quietly ceases we see her having a fit. Why? What’s the point? Cruelty may be in vogue at the moment but there is quite enough in this opera without needing to add more and upset Verdi’s beautiful ending.

The Council Chamber, Boccanegra centre facing

The music has sublime moments, and powerful moments, and was superbly conducted by Edward Gardner. The chorus sang strongly, as did the main performers, and Brindley Sherratt was extremely powerful and entirely convincing, as Fiesco. Rena Harms gave a vivid portrayal of Amelia, Peter Auty came over very strongly as Adorno, and Bruno Caproni showed increasing gravitas as Boccanegra, though his voice was somewhat occluded when he turned away from the audience on several occasions. As Paolo, Boccanegra’s right hand man and later his nastiest enemy, Roland Wood sang very well, and Mark Richardson gave a sinister impression of Paolo’s henchman Pietro.

Adorno and Amelia

The production by Dmitri Tcherniakov, who also designed the sets, contained some imaginative ideas, particularly the flashbacks as the old set for the Prologue reappears by a clever trick of Gleb Filshtinsky’s lighting. I also liked the pedagogical narrative, explaining the story during scene changes. That helps make things clear, particularly for those who may be unfamiliar with the opera, but the costumes made things less clear. Apart from Adorno in his motorcycle gear, most of the men in the ruling oligarchy wore grey suits, making it difficult to distinguish different characters — for example, Boccanegra and Paolo looked remarkably similar. At least Fiesco wore a dark suit, but the uncompromising greyness was a bit much. The Council scene was set in what looked rather like a cheap lecture room with very cheap chairs, perhaps to reflect the tiresomeness of government compared to the colours in the Prologue, which takes place 25 years earlier, as reflected in the late 1950s / early 1960s car and costumes.

At the final curtain calls there were several boos for the production team and I wonder whether this might be due to the strange ending when Amelia refuses to embrace her father? The only explanation I can think of is that Amelia is annoyed with him since she’s only just found her maternal grandfather, but what was in the director’s mind I don’t know, and I can’t see the point. Better to let the music speak over the dead body of Boccanegra, as Verdi intended.

Performances continue until July 9 — for more details click here.

Macbeth, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, May 2011

25 May, 2011

In 1846, Verdi had to decide between Schiller’s Die Räuber, and Shakespeare’s Macbeth for a new commission in Florence. He produced both in 1847, with the Schiller (titled I masnadieri) going to London, and the Shakespeare to Florence, the choice depending on the singers available. Macbeth needed no leading tenor but it did need a first rate baritone and soprano, and here we had them both in Simon Keenlyside and Liudmyla Monastyrska.

Macbeth and his wife with a witch in the foreground, all photos by Clive Barda

She was a hugely powerful Lady Macbeth, her voice cutting through and soaring above the orchestra and all the other singers, including the chorus. Keenlyside by contrast has a wonderfully warm tone and superb ability to inhabit the roles he sings, but there was a lack of chemistry between the two of them on the first night. He seemed unnecessarily subdued, but after she dies in Act IV, his confessional Pietà, rispetto, amore in the next scene was superbly sung, giving us the Keenlyside I have admired so much in roles such as Rodrigo in Don Carlo.

As Banquo, Raymond Aceto was terrific, reminding me of his superb performance in last October’s Rigoletto as the murderer Sparafucile. In this production he is left lying at the front of the stage after being murdered in Act II, and his little son, Fleance reappears from hiding to go to his father’s body before fleeing the stage. The body remains there for the banquet scene, rising up when Macbeth sees the vision of Banquo’s ghost.

Guards by Duncan's body before Banquo's death

This production by Phyllida Lloyd contains several good ideas, and in the banquet scene both Macbeth and his wife are dressed in gold, reminding us of King Duncan at the start of the opera. The tall sets, and in Act III the appearance at stage rear of multiple golden kings on horses again reminiscent of Duncan, show that Macbeth is caught up in something far larger than he realises, and Keenlyside brought this over very well. The nature of his marriage is intimated by the beds on which he and his wife lie, and her problems are silently illustrated by the children the witches bring onstage to sit on the bed with her. We never quite know what to make of her earlier life and claim to have suckled a child, but this is a point of contact with that aspect of the play.

Macbeth and Macduff towards the end

Among the other performers Dimitri Pittas sang Macduff, a role he also sang in the Metropolitan Opera live relay in January 2008, and I admired Elisabeth Meister as the lady-in-waiting. The chorus was wonderfully strong, and Antonio Pappano conducted this early Verdi opera with a fine sense of energy and sensitivity.

I’ve not seen this production before, but I’m afraid I was somewhat underwhelmed, and not because of the singers. It’s difficult to say why, but for instance if you blinked you missed the murder of Macduff’s children, and the perpetual use of the witches as dark forces involved in the action — hiding Banquo’s son, for example — doesn’t seem to give the dramatic intensity that Verdi’s opera demands. This was his first Shakespeare opera and he was extremely concerned to get the drama right, bullying his librettist Piave to produce exactly the text he wanted, but somehow this production fails to bring out the right intensity of mood. However, it was huge pleasure to hear Liudmyla Monastyrska as Lady Macbeth, with her superb vocal technique, and her breathtaking power.

live relay to cinemas will be given on June 13, and a BBC Radio 3 broadcast at 6 p.m. on Saturday, June 18. Performances continue until June 18 — for more details click here.

Aida, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, March 2011

12 March, 2011

Exiles and refugees in the modern world can take their gods with them, but it was not always so. This production places the action in a very distant past, and when Roberto Alagna as Radames sings in Act III that Aida is demanding he abandon his homeland, and therefore his gods too (Abbandonar la patria, l’are de’ nostri dei!), it was a riveting moment.

Radames being smeared with blood, all images Bill Cooper

In my review last year when David McVicar’s new production was first performed, I was very positive about the fact that it was set in an ancient civilization having nothing particularly Egyptian about it. I appreciated its raw energy, with the stylized masculine combat, human sacrifice, and female sexuality, and this was all very welcome. On a second viewing I found things to criticise that may or may not have been present a year ago. When Aida enters along with other slave women beholden to the princess Amneris, all except Aida hang their heads and droop their bodies in a way that would be more likely to irritate than please a princess, and if Amneris likes to see around her women who are cowed into abject submission, then why does she tolerate Aida being so vastly different? The poses of the ballet dancers as warriors seemed a bit overdone, and the lesbian choreography for the women was dull. When the Ethiopian prisoners are brought on stage, the guards’ over-aggressive poses seemed to indicate a lack of confidence on their part. But these complaints are mostly to do with the movement on stage, and are not necessarily intrinsic to the production.

Michael Volle as Amonasro

The singing and conducting are the main things, of course, and Olga Borodina as Amneris showed enormous gravitas, singing with huge lyrical power. For me she was the star of the show, though I also found Michael Volle terrific both vocally and in terms of his stage presence as Amonasro, king of the Ethiopians and father of Aida. At the dress rehearsal, Roberto Alagna gained ground as the opera progressed, eventually carrying off the role of Radames with utter conviction. Brindley Sherratt gave a powerful presence to the King of Egypt, and I rather like the fact that this production portrays him as blind, or at any rate partially sighted, led round by a slave boy. Vitalij Kowaljov sang strongly as Ramfis the high priest, and in the dress rehearsal that I attended, Micaela Carosi reprised her role of Aida from one year ago, but despite some lovely quiet passages I felt she was too exposed on the high notes, with pitch problems in the loud passages. I gather she was replaced on the first night by Ukrainian soprano, Liudmyla Monastyrska, who is due to sing Lady Macbeth in May, opposite Simon Keenlyside.

Conducting by Fabio Luisi was effective, and I loved the off-stage trumpets in the balcony. They played with such power and clarity it was a thrill to hear them.

Kowaljow as High Priest, and Borodina as Amneris

Performances, albeit with various cast changes, continue until April 15. For example, Alagna is replaced by Carlo Ventre after the first three performances, and there are extensive changes in the last three performances, with Brindley Sherratt switching from King of Egypt to Ramfis the high priest — for more details click here.

Don Carlo, Metropolitan Opera live relay, December 2010

12 December, 2010

When it was over the man sitting next to me said, “It doesn’t get any better than this”, and indeed it was a superb performance of what is arguably Verdi’s greatest opera. The story is based on historical characters, though as Verdi himself said, “Nothing in the drama is historical, but it contains a Shakespearean truth and profundity of characterization”.

All photos by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

It’s a human drama of huge proportions, and Ferruccio Furlanetto in the central role of Philip II of Spain showed to perfection the king’s isolated uncertainty and emotional distress. His soliloquy at the start of Act IV was brilliantly expressive. Here is the most powerful ruler in the world, yet he bows to the power of the Church, embodied in the Grand Inquisitor, a blind priest who exudes furious certainty that the deaths of ‘heretics’ and potential rebels fulfils God’s glorious purpose. Eric Halfvarson sang that role very strongly, approving Philip’s hesitant plan to kill his own son Don Carlo, but then demanding the king yield him his trusted advisor, Rodrigo, Marquis of Posa. He was brilliantly sung by Simon Keenlyside whose portrayal of the role is unsurpassable in its sincerity and nobility. The king refuses but has Rodrigo killed later, yet regrets it immediately after. At this point, as Furlanetto sang, “Chi rende a me quell’uom?” (Who will restore to me this man?), I thought immediately of England’s medieval king Henry II and his reaction to the murder of Thomas à Becket. This is powerful stuff by Verdi, and of course Schiller on whose play this opera is based.

Rodrigo and the King

Fortunately this was the five-act version, giving us in Act I the initial encounter between Elisabeth de Valois and Don Carlo in the forest of Fontainebleau. Marina Poplavskaya sang Elisabeth most beautifully, with wonderfully soft high notes, amply showing her vulnerability and strength. She is perfect for this role, which she sang on both the last occasions I’ve seen the opera, at Covent Garden in 2008 and 2009. Roberto Alagna gave an intense and spirited portrayal of Don Carlo, singing with great power and conviction. One feels enormous sympathy for these two young people who are betrothed to one another, yet whose love is proscribed immediately after their first meeting. Philip II decides to take Elisabeth as his wife, rather than let her marry his son, Don Carlo, and though the intensity of their love may be dramatic licence, it’s a historical fact that Carlos died young, as did Elisabeth, who was so distraught at his death that she cried for two days. The myth of their undying love is only aided by their graves in the Escurial lying side by side.

Elisabeth and Don Carlo

This opera has major roles for six principals, the sixth being Princess Eboli who was strongly sung by Anna Smirnova. The machinations of this mendaciously jealous woman are a key to the plot, but why do directors always make her look so unattractive? Her dresses with their lace sleeves were extremely unflattering, yet in real life she was a beautiful woman — and in the opera she’s having an affair with the king for goodness sake. Apart from this one quibble I love Nicholas Hytner’s production with set and costume designs by Bob Crowley — the same production as at Covent Garden. It gives a fine sense of the stateliness of the Spanish throne as well as leaving ample space for the human drama, and the burning of the heretics in the auto da fé scene is a dramatic sight.

The chorus sang powerfully, and among the minor roles, Layla Claire was excellent as the page Tebaldo. The orchestra gave a wonderful rendering of the score under the direction of Yannick Nézet-Séguin whose conducting was simply superb.

Rigoletto, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, October 2010

12 October, 2010

A wittily malicious jester has a daughter he adores, who means everything to him, but loses her through his own vengeful actions in planning the murder of her seducer, the libidinous Duke of Mantua. The duke gets many of the best tunes, but the most important character is the jester, Rigoletto, and we are lucky in this new run to have Dmitri Hvorostovsky in the role. He was sensational, both in singing and acting . . . those little jumps, apparently balanced on his sticks, were extraordinary, befitting a jester who is also a truly tragic character.

 

Hvorostovsky as Rigoletto, photos by Johan Persson

 

In the small role of Count Monterone, who curses Rigoletto, Michael Druitt was very powerful, and as he is led away to prison — for cursing the Duke too — he regrets that his curse was ineffective. In response, Rigoletto’s “Non, vecchio, t’inganni — un vindice avrai” (No, old man, you’re wrong — you’ll be avenged) was brilliantly delivered by Hvorostovsky. Patrizia Ciofi as his daughter Gilda sang with a beautiful lyricism, and her last words, “in cielo, vicina alla madre — in eterno per voi . . . preghero” (with my mother in heaven I will always pray for you) were heart-rendingly delivered. She sang the same part beautifully three years ago at Covent Garden, but this time I felt she inhabited the role more convincingly. Raymond Aceto as the hired assassin Sparafucile also reprised his excellent performance from three years ago, and Wookyung Kim was once again the duke, though I’m afraid his voice doesn’t do it for me. He lacks the effortless insouciance that this role demands.

 

Hvorostovsky and Ciofi

 

As to David McVicar’s production, revived by Leah Hausman, I have got used to the rather grim set, which is cleverly rotated, sometimes almost imperceptibly slowly, and I love the lighting by Paule Constable. Costumes by Tanya McCallin are very good, but the one thing I dislike is that orgiastic first scene of Act I . . . bare breasts, naked bodies, men behaving like dogs on leads . . . it all seems gratuitously over the top. Good fun for the participants, but it looks a bit contrived, and not in keeping with Verdi’s music at that point in the opera.

However, the music was authentically performed in great Verdi style under the baton of Dan Ettinger, and further performances with this cast are scheduled for October 14, 16, 19, 21, 23.

La Forza del Destino, Holland Park Opera, OHP, August 2010

15 August, 2010

“Vengeance is mine”, saith the Lord, but the quest for revenge by the Calatrava family, personified by its son, Don Carlo, leads to deaths only in the family itself. In his dying throes, Carlo manages to kill his sister Leonora as she comforts him, but the person he most wanted to kill, namely his sister’s beloved Don Alvaro, lives on. Such is Alvaro’s fate, the power of fate being the theme of this opera, whose driving force is Verdi’s music.

The backdrop to Act III, all images OHP/ Fritz Curzon

I’ve always found it terrific stuff, and was delighted with the excellent musical direction by Stuart Stratford, whom I remember doing an equally fine job at Holland Park last summer with Katya Kabanova. Peter Auty was powerfully lyrical as Alvaro, and his soliloquy in Act III, when he pleads with an absent Leonora to pity his suffering, was superb. Mark Stone was a very strong Carlo, and the two of them together in Act III were wonderful. Gweneth-Ann Jeffers as Leonora was remarkable — she modulated her voice seamlessly from quiet passages to loud ones, and gave this role a powerful undertow of emotion. Among the other parts in this opera, Donald Maxwell was delightful as Fra Melitone, amusing, with perfect comic timing and a gloriously strong voice. No wonder I found him so good as the Major-Domo in Fille du Régiment at Covent Garden three months ago. Mikhail Svetlov sang well as Padre Guardiano, as did Carole Wilson as the gypsy Preziosilla, reminding me of her analogous role in Ballo last summer.

Alvaro holds the dying Leonora

The production by Martin Duncan works very well, with wonderful designs by Alison Chitty, whom I recall doing magical work for Birtwistle’s Minotaur at Covent Garden in April 2008. Here she did another piece of magic. Act III had a black cloth backdrop with chairs hanging in front, along with red cords stretching from floor to rafters at various angles. Lampshades hanging from the rafters were lit blue, and the chairs were projected onto the backdrop. Mark Jonathan’s dark lighting on this set produced the effect of a Kandinsky painting, which I thought entirely appropriate to the time in which the opera was set, namely early-mid twentieth century. Altogether this was a superbly designed production using little more than chairs as props — brilliant.

Congratulations to Opera Holland Park, a fitting production for this, the last night of their season.

Simon Boccanegra, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, June 2010

30 June, 2010

Verdi was brilliant at expressing father-daughter relationships, as this opera makes abundantly clear. Before it starts, Simon Boccanegra has seduced a young noblewoman, and taken their illegitimate daughter away to be cared for, earning him the undying hatred of the young woman’s father, the powerful Jacopo Fiesco. Placido Domingo as Boccanegra, and Feruccio Furlanetto as Fiesco, formed a powerfully opposing duo, whose meetings in the Prologue and again at the end of the opera remain etched in my memory.

Domingo and Poplavskaya in the recognition scene

Boccanegra returns to Genoa after years of piracy to be elected Doge, only to find that his previous lover, Maria the daughter of Fiesco, has died. Boccanegra has tragically lost track of their daughter, unaware that she was later adopted under the name of Amelia Grimaldi. A quarter of a century later, the recognition scene between the two, with Marina Poplavskaya as Amelia, was simply superb. Her voice showed plaintiveness and purity, yet firm resolve, and their singing and body language melded beautifully together. The acting of Domingo, Furlanetto and Poplavskaya was simply wonderful — I cannot imagine better. Add to that the singing of Joseph Calleja as Amelia’s beloved Gabriele Adorno, and this was a terrific cast — Calleja sang like a god.

Amelia’s other passionate admirer, Paolo, is Boccanegra’s chief of staff, a man instrumental in making him Doge. This part was sung by Jonathan Summers who played the same role in some of the original 1991 performances of this production by Elijah Moshinsky. The production is excellent, with large sets by Michael Yeargan that use the stage to create wide open spaces, and I loved the addition of an old navigational instrument in Boccanegra’s quarters in Act II. Costumes by Peter J. Hall are wonderful, and Moshinsky obviously returned to direct this revival — the first since 2004 — appearing on stage with the cast at the end.

Adorno wrongly accuses Boccanegra of abducting his beloved, while the real culprit Paolo stands on the right

The Council chamber scene was memorable, and musical direction by Antonio Pappano was gentle, sensitive, yet immensely powerful when necessary. As Boccanegra calls on Paolo to find out who is guilty of Amelia’s recent abduction, the five trombones played like thunder.

Boccanegra dies, supported by Amelia and Adorno, with Fiesco in the background

When I compare this production and performance to the opening night of the new, rather cold, production of Manon a week ago, I am thankful for the warmth and sincerity of this marvellous experience. It’s a sell-out, but if you can get hold of tickets, don’t hesitate. At the end the entire main floor gave it a standing ovation.