When the Met gets it right, it gets it REALLY right, and such is the case with Simon Boccanegra. Although not a new one, the Giancarlo del Monaco production honors the intent of Verdi to knit together two major themes--the personal and the political. The personal one very much centers on the father-daughter relationship, often worked through in Verdi’s operas. Having sired a child with the daughter of the aristocratic Fiesco, unfortunate former pirate Simon Boccanegra is persona non grata in the 14th Century city-state of Genoa. As librettists Piave and Boito weave the tale, Fiesco will not allow Boccanegra to wed his beloved Maria and their illegitimate child has been turned over to a nurse who has died. The child is lost. Fiesco will not forgive Boccanegra until the child is produced and turned over to him. As the prologue opens Fiesco is grieving the death of his daughter and then Boccanegra also learns of the sad event.
Fiesco’s grief is given haunting expression by the aria “Il Lacerato Spirito”, movingly sung by bass Ferrucio Furlanetto who has a way of making stubborn old men supremely sympathetic. Poor Boccanegra also gets an opportunity to express his grief; baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky, another artist of the highest caliber, immediately tugs at our heartstrings.
As the tale unfolds a quarter century later SB rediscovers his now-grown daughter (the winsome soprano Barbara Frittoli, possessor of a thrilling vibrato), wins her love and loyalty, disappoints the villain Paolo (ably portrayed by baritone Nicola Alaimo) who wanted to call in his political chips to marry the girl, forgives the girl’s beloved Gabriele Adorno (stunningly portrayed by tenor Ramón Vargas) and manages to bless the union and proclaim GA the new doge before dying of poison administered by Paolo. PHEW!
On to the political theme! Simon “has power thrust upon him” by Paolo who gets him elected doge. He assumes the (ermine) mantel of power and becomes a fair and merciful ruler, devoted to bringing peace to the warring factions in Genoa. Having lived through the process of unification of Italy, it seems clear that Verdi was drawn to stories that deal with compromise, peace and reconciliation. It is here that the chorus assumes a major role and does it with its customary excellence.
The musical values are topnotch overall. On Monday night, John Keenan assumed the conductor’s baton and neglected not a single detail in his nuanced reading of the score. Never was a singer drowned out. Every instrumental soloist who introduced a new idea did so with clarity, whether harp, bass clarinet, or oboe. The orchestra told the tale as well as the vocal line and the lyrics.
Sets and costumes were particularly apt. The only quibble I had is that more might have been done with the lighting. It would have been quite special if dawn at the seaside garden of the Grimaldi palace had been lit to suggest dawn, for example. But what a tiny quibble that is in light of this magnificent evening when luxury casting came together with honest production values. Let us cherish these productions before they are retired and replaced with costly and ineffective newcomers.
(c)meche kroop for The Opera Insider
9 hours ago