We’ve seen many ensembles flitting around Elijah Moshinsky’s elegant pillars, but none so eagerly anticipated as tonight’s, boasting not only Domingo’s Doge but outstanding role debuts from Joseph Calleja’s Adorno and Marina Poplavskaya’s Amelia.
Simon Boccanegra to be the most truly Shakespearean of Verdi’s operas, especially in its heartfelt examination of the father-daughter relationship: Grief fills the room up of my absent child’ seems to inform so much of the music, and Pericles keeps coming to mind in the hero’s moments of crisis.
Domingo is perfect both in his paternal role and that of the tormented ruler, his scenes with Amelia on an emotional par with anything you might experience at the RSC, and his singing, whilst it may not please those who prefer a deeper, darker tone, burns with commitment and pathos. Figlia!’ of course tugged at the heartstrings, Plebe! Patrizi!’ gave us a stirring reminder of just how to dominate a stage, and his death scene was ample proof of the fact that Domingo did not want to sing this role because he wants to become a baritone, but because it is one of the greatest in the repertoire.
If Domingo had not been on stage, Joseph Calleja, in the role in which the older tenor made his own debut, would have stolen the show: he brought the house down with his aria, and rightly so, for this is a voice with the kind of squillo’ which delights purists in tenor voice admiration. Calleja, despite what some critics seem to think, has not suddenly burst into heavy Verdi after inconsequential roles: he has been a superb Alfredo here, and his Hoffman at the Met revealed vocal splendour and powerful dramatic skill: I look forward to hearing him often at Covent Garden.
Marina Poplavskaya was a vulnerable yet feisty Amelia, her soprano not quite as exciting as I recall it from Don Carlos, yet still appealing in her opening aria and more than capable of standing up to both father and lover in their scenes together. Ferruccio Furlanetto reprised his sonorous, sometimes terrifying Fiesco, and Jonathan Summers ranted balefully as Paolo despite some loss of vocal sheen.
Antonio Pappano’s conducting was a wonderful example of what viewers of his Opera Italia’ series delighted in: his full-blown love of Verdi’s music informing every phrase, with every nuance from the shimmering sea pictures’ to the throbbing chords at the close shaped with exquisite skill. The orchestra played for him as if possessed, and what a shame it was that so many final notes (including the very last bars) were lost in premature applause.
Moshinsky’s production is into its fifth revival, but it still looks classy: the inspiration for the set, Luciano Laurana’s (attrib.) View of an Ideal City informs the sense of perspective and appropriate grandeur of both external and interior scenes, and the wonderful light of the early Renaissance’ in the director’s words, fills the stage. The revival is dedicated to the costume designer Peter J. Hall, who died at the end of May, and he could have no finer memorial.