Dark Mystery and Intrigue in Semperoper’s Simon Boccanegra

GermanyGermany Verdi: Simon Boccanegra: Sächsischer Staatsopernchor Dresden, Mitglieder der Komparserie und Kinderkompserie, Dresden & Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden/Paolo Arrivabeni (conductor), Semperoper, Dresden 13.6.2014 (MC)

Zeljko Lucic as Simon Boccanegra © Matthias Creutziger
Zeljko Lucic as Simon Boccanegra © Matthias Creutziger

Simon Boccanegra: Zeljko Lucic
Jacopo Fiesco: Kwangchul Youn
Paolo Albiani: Markus Marquardt
Pietro: Andreas Bauer
Amelia Grimaldi: Barbara Haveman
Gabriele Adorno: Ramón Vargas
Hauptmann: Christopher Kaplan
Magd von Amelia: Christel Loetzsch
Tänzerinnen und Tänzer

Sächsische Staatsoper Dresden
Direction: Jan Philipp Gloger
Sets: Christof Hetzer
Costumes: Karin Jud
Lighting: Bernd Purkrabek
Choir: Jörn Hinnerk Andersen
Dramaturgie: Sophie Becker


After attending productions of La bohème and Così fan tutte at the Dresden Semperoper I was champing at the bit for something heavier and Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra directed by Jan Philipp Gloger fitted the bill perfectly. I have greatly admired Boccanegra since hearing Claudio Abbado’s recording with the Coro e Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala in 1977 on Deutsche Grammophon. I must say how the clarity, perception and execution of Gloger’s vision and method reminded me of a splendid production of Nabucco directed by Keith Warner that I attended last year at the Deutsche Oper Berlin.

Verdi’s stormy political thrilleris set in fourteenth century Genoa an independent city ruled by the former pirate Simon Boccanegra the elected Doge who is haunted by the past. It is a complicated scenario and it helped that director Gloger used a traditional set of the period designed by Christof Hetzer. There was a revolving stage and often more than one piece of action was taking place at once. Hearing the evocative prelude when the curtains first opened the atmospheric scene of the prologue that met my eyes contained dingy looking rooms seen from the outside and dark shadowy street corners with a large impressive flight of steps complete with sea mist. In a convincing direction Gloger ensured a conspicuous sense of dark mystery and political intrigue of old Genoa.

For greater impact as the prestigious Doge of Genoa, Boccanegra could have been attired in a more high-status outfit rather than the Primark version costume designer Karin Jud had Zeljko Lucic wear. I would have liked an outfit of a similar status to that worn by Placido Domingo at the ROH in Elijah Moshinsky’s recent production and by Thomas Hampson on the cover of his Decca set. Both Domingo and Hampson have the stage presence for my ideal Boccanegra that Lucic sadly could not match. Barbara Haveman as Amelia Grimaldi (in reality Maria Boccanegra)was clad simply in a long light blue dress which once again seemed too plain for women of her rank. In line with the overall grey nature of the set Karin Jud had the cast dressed appropriately as rugged inhabitants of this seaport many of whom would have been simple fisherfolk.

Zeljko Lucic in the role of Boccanegra did a fine job as the anguished Genoese Doge. I enjoyed his arias Plebe! Patrizi! from act one and Oh refrigerio!… la marina brezza! from act three. Dark and sturdy with splendid clarity Lucic’s voice at times displayed a slight sweet edge. Lecic was able to generate a convincing passion and had no problem reaching the high notes. As Amelia, Barbara Haveman sang the role as a replacement for Maria Agresta. Amelia’s Act One cavatina Come in quest’ora bruna was satisfactorily rendered and later in the act she gave convincing anguish to her aria Nell’ora soave. Without being outstanding the soprano sang acceptably and attractively. Haveman did rather have to grab at the high notes and I wasn’t convinced she was entirely comfortable with the character, which may have been down to limited preparation time. I did enjoy the act one duet forBoccanegraandAmelia Orfanella il tetto umile…Figlia! A tal nome palpito, one of the most beautiful in the repertoire and sung with palpable feeling. Mightily impressive was the popular tenor Ramón Vargas as the Genoese gentleman Gabriele Adorno. Singing with musicality, assurance and disarming, brightly lit expression Vargas’s Act Two O inferno! …Sento avvampar nell’anima was a highlight of the evening. Boccanegra’s adversary and grandfather of Amelia the Genoese nobleman Jacopo Fiesco was sung by Kwangchul Youn. With a deep resonant tone I found Youn’s voice a touch monotonous in character. Worthy of praise was Fiesco’s famous romanza from the prologue A te l’estremo addio… Il lacerato spirit. Leaving quite an impression was the emotional tension generated in the grand duets between adversaries Boccanegra and Fiesco from the prologueDel mar sul lido and act three M’ardon Le Tempia. Paolo Albiani, a goldsmith and the Doge’s favourite courtier was sung by Markus Marquardt with an impressive keenness. In excellent form was the Staatskapelle Dresden conducted by Paolo Arrivabeni playing with vigour and understanding.

Under the direction of Jan Philipp Gloger, Verdi’s Boccanegra was a great success and my only regret was not being able to attend a repeat performance during my Dresden stay.

Michael Cookson