Verdi – Simon Boccanegra / Metropolitan Opera 2011 (2)

(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?

11 thoughts on “Verdi – Simon Boccanegra / Metropolitan Opera 2011 (2)

  1. I think the audience was applauding Domingo.
    I see Ms. Pieczonka around often enough to have learned how to pronounce her name! I almost always get taken by surprise because she is so “not a Diva”. I remember the first time. It was at Ileana Montalbetti’s farewell recital. She was not sitting in the reserved seats but was standing up on the level 4 area that overlooks the performance space wearing track pants and sneakers and no make up. I was up there too (it was before I got reserved seat privileges!) with the lemur and I’m doing a double take. That’s AP! That can’t be AP! Why’s she up here with us plebs? etc.
    There don’t seem to be any radically Regie versions around. There are tons of very traditional productions on DVD (three of them featuring PD). The Bologna 2007 recording looks like it might be a bit more modern in conception.


    1. OK, so how IS Pieczonka pronounced? I really like her a lot in the Lohengrin she recorded with Johan Botha. (Rob AKA Regie, or Not…)


        1. Thanks. After I asked, I thought thought the cz was sh or ch. Since I like her singing it would be nice to be able to pronouce her name properly. Thanks John 🙂


    2. re: applause, I thought of that too, but they didn’t do it the first time he appeared, in the prologue – so this confused me.

      Hooray for no makeup! I am with AP on that one. I did like her as the Marschallin in the Rosenkavalier – I’ll have to see what else she’s been in.


  2. There are some nice DVD’s of Simon Boccanegra sung by a true baritone. My favourites:

    1. 1984 – James Levine, Metropolitan Opera, with Sherrill Milnes, Anna Tomowa-Sintow, Vasile Moldoveanu, Paul Plishka ( )

    2. 1995 – James Levine, Metropolitan Opera, with Vladimir Chernov, Kiri Te Kanawa, Placido Domingo – it’s the premiere of th production you reviewed here, and with Domingo singing as a tenor, being Gabriele Adorno ( )

    3. 2002 – Danielle Gatti, Wiener Staatsoper with Thomas Hampson, Cristina Gallardo-Domas, Ferruccio Furlanetto ( ) – This is the prodution I saw with Placido Domingo.

    There is also a perfect CD from 1979, with Abbado, Scala, Cappuccilli, Ghiaurov, Freni and Carrerars unsurpassed ( )

    Domingo has already 3 DVD’s, the one from the Metropolitan Opera being the weakest. More emotion you can find in Moshinsky’s production from London, and more music at la Scala, all in the same year, 2010.

    Doming has the merit of bringing this opera to large audiences as it deserved. It’s also his swan song.


    1. I’ll have to watch some of the others – thank you for the list! (And I am sorry your comment went to moderation for a few hours: wordpress is weird about anything with more than one link, even if it’s a known commenter.)


      1. In the ’84 run the orchestra hadn’t played this score in a while, so it’s totally metal \m/ \m/


  3. If they’re applauding at the Council Chamber, it’s almost certainly the walls and ceiling, which are tremendous eye candy but may not translate all that well to screen.


  4. The Firenze and Vienna DVD’s from 2002 featuring the same producțion of Peter Stein is more modern than all the others.
    And also the one from La Scala with Domingo from 2010


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