Strongly sung Simon Boccanegra at Zurich Opera led by Ludovic Tézier’s formidable baritone

SwitzerlandSwitzerland Verdi, Simon Boccanegra: Soloists, Chorus of the Zurich Opera, Philharmonia Zurich / Marco Armiliato (conductor). Zurich Opera, Zurich. 12.12.2021. (JR)

Jennifer Rowley (Amelia) and Otar Jorjikia (Gabriele) (c) Monika Rittershaus

Production – Andreas Homoki
Costumes and Set– Christian Schmidt
Assistant set management – Florian Schaaf
Lighting – Franck Evin
Chorusmaster – Janko Kastelic
Dramaturgy – Fabio Dietsche

Simon Boccanegra – Ludovic Tézier
Maria (Amelia) Boccanegra (Grimaldi) – Jennifer Rowley
Jacopo Fiesco – Christof Fischesser
Gabriele Adorno – Otar Jorjikia
Paolo Albiani – Nicholas Brownlee
Pietro – Brent Michael Smith
Amelia’s maid – Bożena Bujnocka
Captain – Savelii Andreev

The first run of this new production last year was almost completely spoilt by the pandemic, limiting the audience in the opera house itself to just a few handfuls, so who can blame the opera house management for bringing it straight back this season, not with Christian Gerhaher in the title role, but a veritable star in Verdi roles, French baritone Ludovic Tézier. I was very keen to hear Tézier: I missed him in Geneva (and Paris) and his appearance in Don Carlos as Rodrigo last season in Zurich was made impossible by the pandemic.

I was very fortunate to have been of the lucky few to see the new production of Simon Boccanegra last year (review click here). That, I trust, dear reader, will allow me not to have to repeat in full my not entirely favourable thoughts on the opera itself: the convoluted and incredible story and the drab set, but concentrate on the voices – though almost completely unchanged from last year – and a different conductor. Therefore, this review will be kept relatively short.

Since I have not changed my view of the staging, this is what I wrote last year: Christian Schmidt has designed a revolving set made up of numerous tall grey doors, to represent the rooms of the Fiesco/Grimaldi palace and the Council Chamber. The characters wander through them and round them constantly; this can be tiresome. The protagonists wore aristocratic garments at first, then – after the elite had been removed, ordinary grey suits, only Amelia was allowed a little colour. It was all rather dull and gloomy, in keeping with the tone of the opera. Without a chorus on stage (just a few extras), focus was naturally on the individuals.

Vocally, there was a great deal to admire. The opera can hardly be considered anyone’s favourite Verdi, but is certainly a fine vehicle for Verdian voices. Christian Gerhaher, best known for Schubert Lieder and modern works, sang the role for the first time last year, and I felt that – fine as a singer he undoubtedly is – he is not quite right for Simon. Tézier’s rich, deep voice is, however, simply perfect for the role, and each note a feast for the ears. Gerhaher may be the more nuanced actor, but give me the voice each time. Jennifer Rowley continued to impress as Amelia after a slightly bumpy start – top notes spot on. Christof Fischesser was in very fine voice, his low notes always something to look forward to. The strong baritone of Nicholas Brownlee as Paolo added to the excellent vocal mix. Brent Michael Smith as Pietro was a firm bass. The sextet at the end of Act I was glorious.

A year ago I was a mite unhappy with the tenor, Otar Jorjikia from Georgia, this time I felt he fared much better as Gabriele Adorno. His Act II aria was very fine. Minor roles were all solidly taken.

The chorus, singing entirely offstage, were in excellent form throughout. In place of Fabio Luisi last year, the orchestra was ably conducted by Marco Armiliato. He was more dynamic than Luisi, and louder; though last year the orchestra had to be relayed into the pit electronically and, as an aural experience, it was lacking.

Simon Boccanegra, devoid of memorable tunes, needs more. This revival though is much more impressive than its first run, the full dramatic force of the opera itself can now make itself properly felt.

I have not heard it yet myself, but I am reliably told Tézier’s recent CD of Verdi arias is particularly fine. Wondering about a Christmas present?

John Rhodes

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