Powerful Boccanegra from ETO Despite Cast Changes

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Verdi, Simon Boccanegra: Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of English Touring Opera / Michael Rosewall (conductor), Northcott Theatre, Exeter, 20.3.2013. (AB)

Libretto by Francesce Maria Piave (revised by Boito)

Sung in Italian

Amelia Grimaldi: Elizabeth Llewellyn
Gabriele Adorno: Charne Rochford
Paolo Albani: Grant Doyle
Simon Boccanegra: Craig Smith
Pietro: Matthew Sprange
Jacopo Fiesco: Piotr Lempa
Officer: Stuart Haycock
Maid: Helen Johnson

Director: James Conway
Designer: Samal Blak
Lighting Designer: Ace McCarron

There were several cast changes for the performance I attended due to the illness of one of the singers scheduled for that night. This is part and parcel of the day-to-day life in a repertory company and essential experience for the singers concerned.

As with the Cosi production, Samal Blak had designed another minimalist, but this time, more evocative set, giving some visual indications of the sea, and dark turgid character to this opera. It could have been anywhere – not necessarily Genoa. The lighting by Ace McCarron was more varied and atmospheric. The opera was sung in Italian and two screens provided English translations.

The male characters’ dark lounge suits and hats came straight out of the twentieth century and added to the sinister Mafia-like atmosphere in the opening scene, which could have been under a subway bridge in New York City or, indeed, any Italian city. The costumes did not make it easy, however, to readily identify the various roles. The dark character of the opera was augmented by so many baritone and bass singers, lightened only by Amelia and her (tenor) suitor, Adorno (Charne Rochford).

The discovery of the evening was Elizabeth Llewellyn (Amelia) who reminded me somewhat in her first aria of Leontyne Price, with her powerful voice, musicality and timbre. She conveyed the anguish of Amelia, promises very well for the future and I am sure she will continue to develop her career. Craig Smith looked the part as the older Boccanegra, acting and singing with conviction, and with his baritone voice husky with emotion at times. Charne Rochford as Gabrieli added passion in his desire for Amelia while Grant Doyle (Paolo) and Piotr Lempa (Jacopo), clad in very similar suits, added some lovely timbres in this opera where deep male voices dominate.

Michael Rosewall conducted this powerful Verdi opera with style and the requisite dramatic flow, and, despite the reduced string strength of a touring orchestra, powered the music and drama ever onwards.

Angela Boyd