Simon Boccanegra: Getting the Attention It Deserves

GermanyGermany Verdi: Simon Boccanegra, Bayerische Staatsoper’s Orchestra and Chorus, Bertrand de Billy (conductor), Munich’s Nationaltheater, 12.7.2013 (JMI).

Bayerische Staatsoper and English National Opera.
Direction: Dmitri Tcherniakov
Sets: Dmitri Tcherniakov
Costumes: Elena Zaytseva
Lighting: Gleb Filshtinsky

Simon Boccanegra: Zeljko Lucic
Amelia Grimaldi: Krassimira Stoyanova
Gabriele Adorno: Ramón Vargas
Jacopo Fiesco: Vitalij Kowaljow
Paolo Albiani: Levente Molnar
Pietro: Goran Juric

What a great opera is Simon Boccanegra! I consider it as one of the very best by Giuseppe Verdi, although its popularity is not the same than other titles of the same composer. When offered in the right conditions, the opportunity to enjoy that is offered to the opera lover is huge. This is what has happened in this performance in Munich, where we have been gifted with an excellent musical version and a very remarkable quartet of singers.

I confess that the fact that the production was by Dmitri Tcherniakov made me rather reluctant regarding his work, since my last experiences with him have not been positive. I have to say that this time I enjoyed the stage production in the first half of the opera, although it has come down in the second half and I have met again with the Tcherniakov I feared.

Tcherniakov brings the action to modern times, placing the Prologue in the 60s and the opera itself in more recent times, perhaps in the 90s. As usual, the Russian régisseur offers his own vision of the drama. In the Prologue we witness a confrontation between two rival gangs, being Boccanegra a drunkard wearing a leather jacket, who enters in Fiesco’s house, where he finds dead his beloved Maria and he takes her outside, becoming the corpse the object of a fight. Incidentally, Maria did not die of any disease, but it seems that she cut her veins, judging from the blood on her arms. After the Prologue, Boccanegra becomes a respectable gentleman dressed in gray, while Fiesco hides his identity as a priest (Father Andrea). Amelia is a gothic girl, always in black costume, while his lover Gabriele Adorno wears a black and white motorcycle outfit, including a big helmet. If one forgets the history of Guelphs and Ghibellines, Patricians and Plebeyans, and seeks to focus on a clash between rival mafia gangs, it has some interes, except that on more than one occasion what you hear and what you see are in conflict.

Tcherniakov’s stage direction is good handling the masses and is rather weak as far as the singers are concerned. In the second part of the opera we witness some absurdities and pure provocations worthy of somebody supposed to be a kind of genius of the stage, a title which, incidentally, I do not know where is granted.

The second act opens with Paolo pouring poison into the water to kill Boccanegra and so does Tcherniakov, but it seems that Paolo will go overboard with casting powder in the glass of water, because the aspect of the content seemd so repugnant that the Doge did not drink the water, although he sang that the water tasted sour. The final scene is particularly rejectable. The sea has always been a very important part in this opera, but here la marina brezza…il mare, il mare are just superfluous. Boccanegra dies, but we don’t the reason of his death, since he never took the poison. It looked like if he had lost his mind, as he has not any better idea than put a paper hat on his head in his last moments of life, leaving the stage walking to eternity(?). What is clear is that Tcherniakov is willing that the spectator can follow the story and at the beguinning of each act a summary of the events and happenings is projected, mainly the events through Tcherniakov’s mind.

The production has only one piece of sets, work of Tcherniakov’s fertile imagination, which seems to offer different scenarios. The Prologue takes place in the Piazza Fiesco, which is nothing but the same stage throughout the rest of the opera. Based on lighting and projections, it becomes a totally different stage later on. The council is rather a conference room with metal chairs. The start of the first act is spectacular, getting Tcherniakov convert the curtain with the stage of the prologue, through a display of imagination superbly done, in a picture on the wall of the house of Grimaldi.

The musical reading has been truly worthwhile. Bertrand De Billy has highlighted the beauty of the score, both in the intimate moments and in the ensembles. His has been a performace to really enjoy this Verdi’s magnificent score. The artistic evolution of Bertrand De Billy seems to me very positive as he has matured much in recent years and today he is a most interesting conductor. He got an excellent work from orchestra and chours.

Simon Boccanegra was played by Serbian baritone Zeljko Lucic and his performance has been very good. I saw him as Boccanegra three years ago I have found him much better now. Vocally, his performance was flawless, his voice truly Verdian and singing with expressiveness and emotion. Undoubtedly, he is one of the very best baritones today in Verdi operas.

Another excellent performance came from the “Gothic” Amelia Grimaldi in Krassimira Stoyanova’s voice. I always say that this excellent soprano is undervalued, because her popularity is much lower than what she deserves as a singer. She was an outstanding Amelia.

The “biker” Gabriele Adorno was played by Ramon Vargas, who, once again, proved not to be well suited for these Verdi parts. I do not question his attractive tenor – rather, light-lyric – or his elegant line of singing, but his voice has always seemed to me better suited to belcantismo. His top register is too thin and he is insufficient in the dramatic moments.

Vitalij Kowaljow made a remarkable interpretation of Fiesco, with a very well suited voice for the role, perfectly sonorous without excess, and with an elegant line of singing. A very good cast.

Levente Molnar was a good Paolo Albiani, though I missed a darker timbre than his. Goran Juric was a good complemenet as Pietro.

The Nationaltheater was practically sold out. The audience gave a warm final reception to the artists, particularly to Zeljko Lucic and Krassimira Stoyanova.

José Mª Irurzun