OPERA NEWS - Simon Boccanegra
From Development server
In Review > International

Simon Boccanegra

Opéra National de Paris

In Review Boccanegra hdl 219
Ludovic Tézier, Simon Boccanegra in Paris
© Agathe Poupeney/Opera National de Paris

MUCH ATTENTION was paid to Calixto Bieito’s new Paris Opera production of Simon Boccanegra, conducted by Fabio Luisi (seen Nov. 15). Verdi’s opera has had a checkered history in Paris. Giorgio Strehler’s unforgettable La Scala production, seen in the Palais Garnier in 1978, remains unequaled; in more recent times, the 2006 production by Johan Simons was one of the least successful of Gerard Mortier’s term as general director in Paris.

Bieito’s dark exploration of the inner world of the troubled corsair Simon Boccanegra was placed on a single set, designed by Susanne Gschwender, representing the wrecked prow of a vessel on a revolve. This was a spectacular technical creation of steel and steps onto which occasional closeups of the protagonists were projected, creating a maritime labyrinth that served as Boccanegra’s refuge. In some ways, the set represented the central nervous system of the character: the poetry of the sea and the politics of the drama were largely sacrificed in favor of an exploration of the Doge’s personal trauma. This presented a number of problems for an opera with a libretto that lacks clarity and dramatic momentum. A cavalier approach to the entrances and exits of characters, as well as the literal representation of the wandering figure of Boccanegra’s dead wife, further muddied the plot lines. 

Some moments were gripping. Boccanegra’s helpless tears after he was proclaimed Doge were a poignant reminder of his past tragedy, and Fiesco’s gentle holding up of the dying Simon had real force. More disturbing were the moments of cold, intentionally “distanced” staging and acting. The musical surge of emotion when Boccanegra recognizes his long-lost daughter has such physicality that it was difficult to accept a production in which father and daughter fail to embrace—and in which Simon’s devoted daughter paid so little attention to her dying father. For some reason, the second half of the opera began with a video projection of a Pre-Raphaelite-style nude over whom some sinister-looking rats crawled. It was also difficult to see why the plotting villain of the piece, Paolo, entered suffering from asthma and permanently carrying a bucket, which later served as the vessel for Boccanegra’s poison. The insistent morbidity of the production was greeted with many dissenting voices for Bieito at the final curtain on opening night.

Given the muddled production concept, it might have helped matters if Ludovic Tézier were a more charismatic actor. Although Tézier had obviously worked hard with Bieito on the role of Boccanegra, the regal authority of a Doge was largely absent. That said, Tézier gave a vocal performance of long-breathed perfection. A French artist at the peak of his career in a role ideally suited to his mature baritone, Tézier was rightly given a heartwarming ovation by the Paris audience. As Boccanegra’s daughter, Maria Agresta contributed more stage intensity than some of her colleagues and produced some perfectly poised soft singing, but at full stretch her soprano was less appealing. 

As Maria’s lover, Francesco Demuro seemed slightly over-parted in a difficult role: Gabriele Adorno is a character that requires more heroic muscle than Demuro’s attractive light tenor currently commands. There were no such problems for Mika Kares, whose resonant, soft-grained bass had all the power needed for Jacopo Fiesco; all this outstanding young Finnish artist lacked was the full measure of mature authority for the score’s climactic moments. Baritone Nicola Alaimo, as the bucket-laden Paolo, contributed a strongly sung display of menacing guilt. The principal cast was completed by the promising Russian bass-baritone Mikhail Timoshenko, as Pietro.

Luisi drew wonderfully stylish playing from the orchestra in a glowing, romantic performance that stood in sharp contrast to the analytical production. The Paris Opera chorus, dressed in mufti, were exceptional in their dynamic range and projection. —Stephen J. Mudge

Follow OPERA NEWS on FacebookTwitter Button