Saturday, April 9, 2016

Simon Boccanegra


The tenor Plácido Domingo, in this baritone title role of by Verdi’s “Simon Boccanegra” at the Met.CreditSara Krulwich/The New York Times
When is it time for a great artist to retire? This delicate question hovers over the Metropolitan Opera’s revival of Verdi’s “Simon Boccanegra,” conducted by James Levine and starring Plácido Domingo in the title role.
Mr. Levine, 72, has long been struggling with health problems, including Parkinson’s disease. This year, the Met was poised to announce his retirement as music director when he was given a reprieve by his doctor, who thought an adjustment in his medication might better control Mr. Levine’s symptoms. This “Simon Boccanegra” is in essence a trial run.
It was hard to see how Friday’s performance could be determinative. Mr. Levine has championed this great but flawed Verdi opera, with its profound score but convoluted plot. He knows the music intimately and led a radiant, stirring, if sometimes uneven performance. His arm gestures and cues still seem loose and flailing. But by now the Met musicians must know what Mr. Levine is after, especially in a signature work like “Boccanegra.”

From left, Plácido Domingo, Lianna Haroutounian and Joseph Calleja in Verdi’s “Simon Boccanegra” at the Metropolitan Opera. CreditSara Krulwich/The New York Times
Still, wouldn’t Mr. Levine want to be judged by the standards he has set for himself throughout his towering career? Nothing went seriously wrong here. He conveyed the dramatic thrust and majestic depths of the piece. But during whole stretches there was a tentative quality, in which the players seemed to be holding back slightly as if waiting for a cue or tearing into a vigorous episode to push the music forward. During crowd scenes, the coordination between the pit and the choristers onstage was mostly solid, but still cautious.
Regarding Mr. Domingo, it’s almost unheard of for an opera singer to be performing in his mid-70s, let alone a tenor who has prolonged his career by taking on baritone roles. But Mr. Domingo seems to have no intention of retiring, and companies including the Met have him booked well into the future.
Last spring, after Mr. Domingo’s sorry performance as Don Carlo in Verdi’s “Ernani,” a baritone role, I suggested he should retire from the opera stage lest he tarnish the memory of a colossal career. But Simon, a corsair in the service of the Republic of Genoa in the 14th century, a complex man who makes a hash of his youth yet is later embraced as a leader, is a role Mr. Domingo knows thoroughly.
He first sang it at the Met in 2010, a great if qualified success. By taking on a touchstone Verdi baritone part, Mr. Domingo was asking fans to indulge him in fulfilling a lifelong fantasy, one for which his voice was not really suited. He sang formidably and acted compellingly. Still, he sounded like a tenor, not a baritone with the particular colorings and weight that Verdi imagined.


Excerpt: ‘Simon Boccanegra’

Plácido Domingo sings an excerpt from the Act I aria from Giancarlo del Monaco’s production of Verdi’s opera, at the Met.
 By METROPOLITAN OPERA on Publish DateApril 3, 2016. Watch in Times Video »

On Friday, he still sounded like a tenor, if now a leathery-voiced, weather-beaten one. His singing was strongest in the upper reaches of the role, when flashes of the old Domingo sound came through. His low range was quite weak, often barked. The contrasts with the other singers in the cast were glaring.
At 66, the great Italian bass Ferruccio Furlanetto may have lost a little vocal luster. Still, as Fiesco, a Genoese nobleman and Simon’s unwitting adversary over 25 years, Mr. Furlanetto brought consummate style and darkly rich colorings to his performance. Here, voice type and expressivity were one.
The soprano Lianna Haroutounian, as Amelia, boasted a big, plush, youthful voice. Her full-bodied singing may have lacked subtlety and grace. Still, throbbing intensity filled every phrase. During the crucial scene when she and Simon discover they are daughter and father, however, Verdi imagined a contrast between soprano and baritone voices. No such luck here.
The tenor Joseph Calleja, who sang Gabriele Adorno, the nobleman who falls for Amelia, is one of the most abundantly gifted tenors of the current generation. His voice has melting warmth and carrying power. He has been prone to technical hitches over the years, and had some nasal-toned phrases and occasional tightness on Friday. The baritone Brian Mulligan, as the villainous Paolo, and the bass Richard Bernstein, as the populist leader Pietro, were both very strong.
So what now for Mr. Domingo? It’s easy to see why he forges on: The audience gave him an enormous ovation. He will return to the Met next season to sing another classic Verdi baritone role: the title character in “Nabucco.” Mr. Levine is to conduct.

Met Opera: Domingo, Levine, and Verdi Together Again in “Simon Boccanegra”

 04/06/2016 11:46 am ET | Updated 2 days ago

If one were able to choose a dream team for an exciting night at the opera, the trio of Placido Domingo, James Levine, and Giuseppe Verdi would be at the top of the list, and the Metropolitan Opera has brought all three together for a stirring and poignant revival of Simon Boccanegra.

With a solid cast that includes the Armenian soprano Lianna Haroutounian as Maria (aka Amelia), the tenor Joseph Calleja as her lover Gabriele, and the basso Ferrucio Furlanetto as Fiesco, it is an exciting and moving drama of love, betrayal, and revenge with some real-life 14th-century politics thrown in.

But it is Domingo and Levine, two of the main driving forces who over the past four decades and more have restored the Metropolitan Opera to its place of preeminence in the opera world, on whom the spotlight shines in this Simon Boccanegra. 

It is Levine who in his 45 years as conductor and music director has molded the Met Orchestra into one of the finest orchestras in the world. And Domingo, the foremost dramatic tenor of our time, has been a stellar mainstay on the Met stage for nearly 50 years, singing over 650 performances and conducting 150 more. 

The opera that brings them together on this outing was also one of Verdi’s own favorites. A flop at its premiere at La Fenice in 1857 - for which politics may have biased its Venetian audience - Verdi recruited Arrigo Boito to rewrite the libretto and provided some new music for a production at La Scala 24 years later that was a big success. 

If it has never enjoyed the popularity as some other Verdi operas, part of the reason may be that it departs from more familiar forms. There are fewer big, show-stopping arias and Verdi relies more heavily on orchestrations to explore the emotional swings of the main characters.
Each principal has an aria, but it is the magnificent duets and ensembles where the music most marvelously expresses the characters’ inner feelings, from raging anger to poignant familial love. The big ensemble at the end of Act I, for example, with full chorus and quartet, is one of the most rousing hymns to peace ever written. 

The opera is set in the 14th century, when the Italian city-states were wracked by the wars between the Guelphs and Ghibellines. And at the time of its first premiere, Italy was embroiled in its violent struggle for unification and the themes of peace, patriotism, and forgiving one’s enemies run through the score.
Another drawback for the opera’s popularity may be the complexity of its plot. Opera has many story lines that test the limits of credulity, but Simon Boccanegra is of soap-opera intricacy. It is taken from a play by Antonio Garcia Gutierrez, and as we now would say, is “based on a true story.” At least the character of the title really existed and was a Doge of Genoa.

It opens with a Prologue that sets up the back story. Simon is a former pirate who fell in love with Maria Fiesco, daughter of a Genoa nobleman. In fact, she bore Simon a daughter, also named Maria, and has since been locked up by her father. In short order Maria the mother dies, Maria the daughter flees from the convent to which Simon entrusted her, and Simon is elected Doge. 

The story then fast-forwards 25 years. Simon is still Doge, and the Fiescos have gone into exile on the Ligurian coast and taken the name Grimaldi. The father Jacobo has been raising a young orphan girl named Amelia, and she has fallen in love with another patrician named Gabriele. But one of Simon’s court cronies, Paolo, also wants to marry her, mainly for her money.

It does not take an opera buff to know that Amelia and Maria are one and the same, and when Simon discovers that his daughter is alive and well he will do anything to please her. The plot then thickens. She is kidnapped (by Paolo) but escapes, there is an uprising against Simon (led by Gabriele) that is put down, Paolo poisons Simon, and there is a general reconciliation before he dies at the curtain.

The Met production, by Giancarlo del Monaco, is over 20 years old but still one of the most handsome in the repertory. It is like a virtual reality trip to 14th-century Genoa, starting in a dark torch-lit piazza with stairs leading to alleyways in different directions, then moving to a villa overlooking the Ligurian Sea, and on to a majestic council chamber with ceiling and wall frescoes in the Doge’s palace.

When this staging first opened at the Met, Domingo sang the tenor role of Gabriele. For a revival six years ago, he sang the baritone title role for the first time there. As a baritone, he still has the rich vocal resonance and emotion that made him one of the world’s greatest tenors. It is manifest in even the smallest detail as when he conveys all the bliss of paternal love in singing the one word “figlia” upon learning Amelia is his long-lost daughter.

Haroutounian is making only her second appearance at the Met - she debuted last season in Don Carlo - and she is a thrilling addition to the roster. She has a lilting and silvery voice, full of joy, that climbs effortlessly to the upper registers. Calleja, who made his mark as Rigoletto a decade ago, sings Gabriele with ardor and passion, and Furlanetto brings all the anguish of a bereaved father to the role of Fiesco. And Brian Mulligan adds a credible villain as Paolo.

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