(Previous section here.)
I don’t know what it is, but costumes and sets from productions after about 2000 always look so much nicer, and more realistic in terms of fabric and lighting and such than older ones. Perhaps it’s the increase in the video quality? Or are they making opera costumes out of different things now? I really have no idea.
Point is, this production of Simon Boccanegra looks very nice. (I think I have seen some of the rear backdrops and a few bits of houses and walls in the Met’s Rodelinda). The production is straightforwardly set in Genoa in the 1300s. No historical tomfoolery here. The prologue takes place in a street/courtyard at night, and the rest of the opera unfolds in an outdoor garden, in the main chamber of the doge’s palace, and in Boccanegra’s own room. The audience started applauding when the curtain first rose in the doge’s palace – I am not sure why. It is a pretty set, and Plácido Domingo as Boccanegra was wearing a really lovely ermine robe, but I don’t know if it was applause worthy. (Whenever I see anyone in an ermine robe, I always think of that episode of Blackadder 3 where Edmund thinks he’s about to get a title of nobility, and buys an ermine robe, which Mrs. Miggins admires: “oooh, that’s real cat, that is!” I wonder if the Met coughed up the dough for real cat?)
Listening to this opera reminded me of what I like about Verdi. The parts of this I enjoyed the most were the ensembles where the characters are either not all quite on the same page, or are at cross-purposes, e.g. the Boccanegra/Amelia/Gabriele trio in Act II. There are also moments of really wonderful orchestral music, e.g. the woodwind writing in the scene where Amelia and Boccanegra discover they are daughter and father (there are bits of that that remind me of the eerie “non pianger, mia compagna” from Don Carlos). In terms of the vocal performances, I think I would want to hear someone who has always been a baritone sing the title role before I come to any conclusions about Domingo. There were parts of his performance that I quite liked – a section where the vocal part interacts with a solo clarinet in the final scene of Act I, and the section near the end of Act III where Boccanegra and Jacopo Fiesco (James Morris) are reconciled – but I didn’t love it from beginning to end. Stephen Gaertner as Paolo was sounding pretty good by Act II. The parts of Adrienne Piezconka’s performance as Amelia that I enjoyed the most were the ones where the character is agitated or apprehensive rather than where she’s happy; I also found myself liking the lower 2/3 or so of her voice more than the very top. (And also, thanks to Renée Fleming’s introduction to the opera, I now know how to pronounce Ms. Pieczonka’s last name!) I think the difficulty with the character of Amelia is that she’s supposed to be at least twenty five, but the story and (in this case) the stage direction has her behaving very girlishly, which does not always add up interpretively. In general, this production is of the sort that is almost guaranteed not to excite someone like me – it’s pretty enough to look at, and the singing is just fine, and you can sit back and enjoy the orchestral music, but I didn’t find it deeply moving or engrossing.
Perhaps there’s a Regie version out there somewhere?