Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Review: Simon Boccanegra

What a masterful, majestic opera this is. As I was trying to explain the intricacies of the plot to my “date” last night, I realized that theatrically Boccanegra makes only slightly more sense than Puritani, but if you can find it in your heart to make some of the leaps of faith the story requires, the power of the music will carry you along. It may be Verdi’s subtlest, most refined score; Otello is appropriately unhinged, Don Carlo is grand and noble, and there are special wonders in each and every opera he wrote, but Boccanegra seems uniquely organic, delicate and inventive.

It was a wonderful performance. What an interesting artist Angela Gheorghiu has become! She exudes a grand, old-school confidence and stage presence. She’s one of the greatest singers in the world, and she knows it. The security of her singing, her musicianship and her polished, considered, earnest musicality allow her to go out on stage and just completely own what she does. The role of Amelia allows her to show off both her bright, strong top notes and her warm dramatic chest voice, as well as everything in between, with ample opportunities for forceful dramatic outbursts and softer, tender lyrical passages.

Marcello Giordani was in great voice, with none of the patchy, husky sound in the middle and tight top that sometimes mars his singing. Everything seemed completely aligned and rang heroically from top to bottom. Top notch.

Bass Ferruccio Furlanetto is getting on a bit, and no longer has quite the space and ease around his higher notes, but instead of getting dry and woofy, like some lower voices do, his voice remains bright and clear. He was dramatically invested in the role, and brought to it the requisite nobility, even in moments of rage.

Baritone Vassily Gerello as the villain Paolo was just not in the same league as the rest of the cast. His voice is thin, nasal and monotone, and he employs stodgy, generic “acting” gestures. I will pound the table now so you know I’m frustrated! Serviceable. Next.

Conductor Fabio Luisi did a marvelous job; the comparison is a cliché and wrong-headed in many ways, but there is a Wagnerian degree of sensitivity to both the stage action and the unspoken emotions in the orchestral writing that more than make up for the confusing mistaken identities and other weaknesses of the libretto. The divine and unusual prelude to Act I is like Parsifal or some of Debussy; the music shimmers, spins and floats, seemingly without tempo or rhythm. It just exists, marvelously. The council scene at the end of the first act was electrifying; it’s difficult to believe that the opera’s magnificent dramatic climax was not part of the original 1857 version. The pit was flawless.

Then there was Thomas Hampson in the title role. I never thought I’d say this about a performer who sometimes is criticized for being too arch, too refined: it was too blustery and blunt. Sure, Boccanegra has his blustery and blunt moments, and Hampson’s voice was muscular, warm, resonant and authoritative throughout. Still, I felt that Hampson’s sensitivity and lyrical capability could have brought a greater range, a more varied vocal palate, than he did. Admittedly, this is me being super-nitpicky. It is a superior performance.

I wanted to make special mention of Michael Scott’s costumes; the fabrics were gorgeous, and I can’t imagine anyone who’d look better in those gowns than Angela Gheorghiu. All in all, a grand night at the Metropolitan Opera.

*****

As it was probably my last night at the Met for a while, I wanted to especially savor the magical moment when the chandeliers rise and dim. Of course, I got distracted by late arrivals in our row and completely missed their ascent.

*****

In other news, I understand that the Met is planning a new production of Bellini’s Norma to be directed by Robert Wilson. Great. An opera that needs blood-and-guts passion in order to work is going to be directed by someone who won’t let his actors move or use facial expressions.

8 comments:

Hot Toddy said...

I was asked to attend Norma here in Portland a couple weeks ago, but I declined. Did I make a mistake?

Andy said...

I don't know, I forgot to ask my parents how it was. When Norma's good, it can be RED HOT, but it takes the right cast, a conductor who knows where to take the right cuts, and a director who can do something more than just arrange the chorus for a class reunion photo. When it's bad...well, the orchestra at the opera house in Zurich affectionately referred to it variously as Dorma and Bore-ma.

DJRainDog said...

Now, now, I'm sure Wilson will let his people move and use facial expressions onstage; it just won't have anything discernibly intuitive to do with what they're singing. ;-)

Andy said...

No, actually he does not permit facial expressions.

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