Verdi’s majestically flawed masterpiece was televised February 6, 2010. Simon Boccanegra stays in the repertory because of it’s glorious music and its great title role. It always fails to completely satisfy because of its insane libretto and because of it’s imperfect structure. Piave’s libretto makes that of Il Trovatore look like the exemplar of the well made play. Boito’s revision made the work worse – from the standpoint of dramatic structure – despite providing the opera with it’s greatest scene; one that by itself equals Verdi’s best . The council chamber scene that concludes the first act is a tour de force. It’s so good that it dwarfs the succeeding two acts which while containing much beautiful music are a steady descent into ever deepening gloom.
Boccanegra is one of Verdi’s greatest baritone roles, which is to say that it’s one of opera’s greatest baritone roles. Verdi’s wrote for a special type of baritone – one who could sustain a high tessitura while maintaining a dark timbre and a sound that could fill the house. It’s not hard for a tenor to sing Verdi’s baritones because they’re written so high. But what a tenor can’t do is sound like a baritone. I can understand why Placido Domingo would want to sing Simon Boccanegra and I can understand why the world’s great opera houses, like the Met, would let him do so; he’s Placido Domingo. But even without the top fifth of the tenor range he’s still a tenor. He doesn’t have the sound needed for Boccanegra. What we got from his portrayal was a very solid effort, remarkable for a 68 year old singer, but one that remains an earnest vanity project. Notice the 68 – Domingo is great considering he’s an old man. If it were Pablo Domingo from Ecuador as Boccanegra he’d be singing the role in Ecuador.
The rest of the production was assembled as a satellite around Domingo’s star. Canadian soprano Adrianne Pieczonka, best know for her Wagnerian roles, was Amelia/Maria. She has a strong well produced voice that was more than adequate for her role. What she lacked was the Verdian sheen necessary to fully realize his heavier roles.
Marcello Giordani screamed his way through the first performance of this run. He managed to sing a little more during the televised show which was the last of the series. Nevertheless, he still puts enormous pressure on his voice. Gabriele Adorno is perhaps the most awkwardly written of Verdi’s major tenor parts. It has a high tessitura and spend a lot of time in the passagio. Consequently is requires a tenor who can make his way through its difficulties without sounding like a victim of the Inquisition. Richard Tucker was prefect in the role. Giordani sounded like he expected the Spanish inquisition despite the Monty Python’s declaration that no one does.
James Morris, another sexagenarian, is not the singer he once was. He got through the opera’s mostly thankless bass role without either embarrassment or distinction. Stephen Gaertner provided the performance’s only true baritone sound as the nefarious poisoner Paolo. The revival of Giancarlo del Monaco’s production looks good, though the sets and costumes are about a 100 years beyond 14th century Genoa. James Levine looking very frail nonetheless conducted a fiery reading of Verdi’s beautiful score. The council chamber scene was as impressive in practice as it is on the page.
Video director Barbara Willis Sweete is still addicted to extreme closeups. Watching both Domingo and Morris sweat their way through the opera’s conclusion would satisfy neither Aristotle or Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Back off.