Posts Tagged ‘Verdi’

Ernani, Metropolitan Opera live cinema relay, February 2012

26 February, 2012

After Verdi’s first four operas were premiered at La Scala, La Fenice in Venice commissioned the fifth, and the composer eventually plumped for Victor Hugo’s play Hernani, a drama on Castillian honour. The resulting opera Ernani may lack the irony and humour of the original play, but it supplies four glorious roles for soprano, tenor, baritone, and bass. Requiting Spanish honour leads to the death of the soprano and tenor right at the end of this production, and in the play the man sung by a bass kills himself too.

De Silva, Elvira, Don Carlo, all photos MetOpera/ Marty Sohl

This is Don Ruy Gomez De Silva, sung by Ferruccio Furlanetto, who inhabited the role of passionate yet honourable Spanish nobleman as if it was entirely his own nature. Here is a man who will protect an intruder with his life, once he has been accepted as guest, even though the intruder turns out to be his rival Ernani. This is the tenor, who appears in the first scene as leader of the bandits, and is love with De Silva’s ward, Elvira. She is adored by tenor, bass, and the baritone, King Carlos of Spain. The opera takes place in 1519 when Carlos is about to be elected Holy Roman Emperor, becoming Charles V, whose ghost appears in Verdi’s later opera Don Carlo. Here he is a very young man, portrayed with utter conviction by Dmitri Hvorostovsky.

Furlanetto as De Silva

After an unpromising start in the overture and the bandit camp, the scene changes to Elvira’s apartment in the castle and Angela Meade raised the level of performance hugely with her wonderful soliloquy expressing love for Ernani and distaste for De Silva. This young soprano produced wonderful trills and lovely soft sounds, and her aria in this scene was a tour de force. The later trio with Elvira, Ernani and Don Carlo came over beautifully, and Marcello Giordani sang strongly with the others, though he seemed to be straining in his own solos, particularly in the higher register. After De Silva enters and has been fobbed off with a story about what is going on in his castle, Furlanetto is left alone to sing a riveting monologue, wishing that his heart had become chilled with age rather than full of youthful ardour. Such wonderful singing from Furlanetto, and from Hvorostovsky, particularly when he shows Carlo’s strength and determination in Act III.

This early Verdi contains a wealth of beautiful music, and though the characters may not carry the interest inherent in many of his later operas, the singers turned in gripping performances, and I’m delighted the Met have broadcast it. The costumes by Peter J. Hall are wonderful, the camera work by Barbara Willis Sweete cleverly showed the full effect of the stage, and the chorus was magnificent. Marco Armiliato in the orchestra pit gave huge support to the singers, and there was a real bounce to the music immediately the chorus sang at the start of Act I.

Ernani and Elvira

The interval features were not up to the Met’s usual high standard. Joyce DiDonato looked awkward in her red dress, and seemed surprisingly wooden with the principals, though more comfortable with regular employees of the opera house, such as chorus director Donald Palumbo. And why do we need to hear the voice of the master carpenter as the scenery is shifted around? But Peter Gelb is an engaging presence, and his mouth-watering description of next season’s cinema highlights was a delight.

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.

Ballo della Regina/ Live Fire Exercise/ DGV:Danse à Grande Vitesse, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, May 2011

14 May, 2011

This triple bill made for a rather fragmented evening, because the first two pieces took only 36 minutes between them, while the two intervals lasted half an hour each.

DGV, Royal Ballet photo by Johan Persson

But it was all worth it because the final item, Christopher Wheeldon’s Danse à Grande Vitesse, was wonderfully invigorating and performed with great energy. A clear stage seems to roll up at the rear into twisted metal sheets, though these are not quite what they seem when light later bleeds through. Wonderful designs by Jean-Marc Puissant, and beautifully lit by Jennifer Tipton, with subtle changes of hue. The lighting yields a very clear view of the principal dancers on the front stage while giving a more subdued feel to those who appear behind, and this is all part of the choreographic effect. The dancing was marvellous, the four principal couples being Zenaida Yanowsky with Eric Underwood, Leanne Benjamin with Steven McRae, Melissa Hamilton with Gary Avis, and Sarah Lamb with Federico Bonelli. All eight danced superbly, as did the dancers in the corps, and I thought Hamilton and Avis particularly stood out, though that was partly the choreography. The music by Michael Nyman was conducted with energetic precision by Daniel Capps, who did a very fine job of uniting music and dance.

Capps also conducted the first item, Ballo Della Regina (The Queen’s Ball) giving it a suitably regal tone while maintaining just the right rhythm for dance. It’s a Balanchine work set to music that was cut from Verdi’s opera Don Carlo, and involves a sequence of variations, first with twelve girls in blue, then two principals in white, joined by four soloists in violet. The principals, Marianela Nuñez and Sergei Polunin, danced exquisitely, well supported by Yuhui Choe, Emma-Jane Maguire, Samantha Raine, and Akane Takada as the soloists, and the other twelve girls from the corps. Watching this was a real pleasure, and I look forward to the Company doing it again.

Federico Bonelli in Live Fire Exercise, photo by Bill Cooper

After this short ballet was over we had to wait nearly twice as long again for the second item, Wayne McGregor’s new work Live Fire Exercise. This looked rather intriguing at first, with small trucks and other heavy vehicles moving noiselessly in a window at the back of the stage. Then six silhouettes walk on and there is a silent explosion creating a plume of fire. The images by John Gerrard are wonderful and it was only after the fireball that I realised they were projected onto a screen in 3-D. The surroundings on the screen slowly rotate and the images move forward, becoming larger. It was fascinating, but seriously distracted from the dance going on at the same time. This distraction is a feature of some of McGregor’s other ballets, such as Infra and Limen, and I wonder why he does it. Perhaps he feels the choreography is not sufficiently interesting to fill out twenty minutes, but the images were, and I liked the plume of fire turning to smoke as night falls, and it all seemed to become more focused as the light showed up the dancers. Eventually dawn arrives, the vehicles leave, the silhouettes reappear and suddenly scatter. The music is the Corelli Fantasia by Michael Tippett, conducted by Barry Wordsworth. It’s lovely music, with a strong pastoral feel towards the end, though the whole thing never really came alive despite the terrific dancing.

The high standard of dancing in this triple bill is a great credit to the Company, and I admire the fact that they put on a new ballet and two others that are not standard repertory, but the intervals were enervating, and the hour and twenty minutes between the end of the first work and the start of the last — three quarters of it interval — would have been a good time for dinner.

Performances continue until May 25 — 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.

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.