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Met’s ‘Simon Boccanegra’ on simulcastBY: Steve Cohen 02.13.2010
The Met’s new production of Verdi’s unjustly ignored masterpiece, Simon Boccanegra, had even more impact on a big screen than in the opera house. Imagine Domingo and Morris, in close-up and in the fullness of their maturity, singing beautifully about the end of life.
Simon Boccanegra. Opera by Giuseppe Verdi; James Levine, conductor. Live performance from the Metropolitan Opera simulcast in theaters nationwide on February 6, 2010 and February 24, 2010 (6:30 p.m. local time). Canada Encore: March 20, 2010, 1 p.m. www.metoperafamily.org/metopera/broadcast.
Domingo and Morris confront eternitySTEVE COHEN
Simon Boccanegra is much harder to present to cinema audiences than was Carmen, which set records for attendance and critical acclaim last month. The dark Verdi opera pits a rebellious populace against its rulers, with a background of personal grudges and scores to settle. There’s less of the one-on-one chemistry that makes Carmen so appealing.
Nevertheless, the Met produced another winner with its live simulcast of Boccanegra on February 6, and it will have a repeat screening February 24. Like Carmen, this production had even more impact on a big screen than in the opera house, due to two factors.
First, Verdi focused on a touching father-and-daughter relationship inside the story of political struggle. As in his Rigoletto and Aida, Verdi rose to heights of emotion when describing such familial love. Here he doubles the impact by also showing the intense involvement of the girl’s grandfather.
Three well-cast singers
Second, this telecast put close-ups on three well-cast performers: Placido Domingo, James Morris and Adrianne Pieczonka. Domingo plays the buccaneer Simon Boccanegra, who wins the love of a patrician woman named Maria over the objections of her father, Fiesco, who is played by Morris. When Maria dies after giving birth to a child, Fiesco swears vengeance against Simon.
Twenty-five years later, fate brings together Simon, now the Doge of Genoa, and a young woman who turns out to be his long-lost daughter, played by Pieczonka. At the end of the opera, Simon is poisoned by his political opponents, but he dies in harmony with the reconciled Fiesco as well as with his daughter, who is Fiesco’s granddaughter.
‘I hear eternity’
In a last-act duet with Fiesco, Simon says: “I hear eternity,” and I thought to myself that what we were seeing and hearing at that moment was for eternity. Here in front of us in the fullness of their maturity were Domingo and Morris, two of opera’s all-time greatest performers, singing beautifully about the end of life. A superb duet for bass and baritone, and in High Definition, yet!
Pieczonka is a Canadian soprano whom I saw do a lovely Marschalin in Der Rosenkavalier at Salzburg, and who sang Sieglinde in Die Walküre last season at the Met. She performed this tough Verdi role better than anyone in recent years. It’s a challenging part that ranges from coloratura flourishes to the dramatic leading of choral ensembles, and it ends with a series of descending scales that seem to represent her tears over the death of her father.
Giordani’s best work
Marcello Giordani sang the part of one of Boccanegra’s political opponents who, unknowingly, falls in love with the Doge’s daughter. Giordani is usually a solid performer, and here he did the best work of his career, maintaining a long vocal line with nuance and expression.
Video director Barbara Willis Sweete supplied wonderful close-ups of the central characters and pulled back for wide shots of the massive Council Chamber in Genoa.
I’m happy that this production has been captured for future viewings on TV and disc, because Simon Boccanegra is an unjustly ignored masterpiece. Verdi wrote it in 1857 during the busy central period of his career, and it enjoyed modest success. Later in his life— in 1881, when he was revered as one of the leaders of Italy’s national unification— Verdi revised Boccanegra and added gorgeous ensembles whose lyrics sing of reconciliation and peace among feuding forces.
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