Friday, February 05, 2010

Grand Old Men

Simon Boccanegra -- Metropolitan Opera, 1/25/10
Domingo, Pieczonka, Giordani, Morris, Carfizzi / Levine

The last Met revival of Verdi's Simon Boccanegra was an exquisitely-felt enactment, driven as much by Angela Gheorghiu's luminous Amelia -- one of her finest parts at the Met -- as Thomas Hampson's eloquent old rogue of a Boccanegra. This revival is less thoroughly emotive, but a success nonetheless.

It is not, this time, particularly about the young lovers who survive the story's civil strife. Adrianne Pieczonka, meltingly warm and winning as Sieglinde last spring, finds less success as Amelia in this Verdi piece. In Wagner her expressive middle voice showed well, but here Pieczonka's less steady top is too exposed even as it improves through the evening. More troublesome is her expression of time: even -- or, rather, precisely -- at its most rapt Verdi's music demands a better-defined sense of the underlying beat than is offered here; again Wagner has different demands. Pieczonka doesn't ruin the show, but she isn't its heart either, as Gheorghiu and Karita Mattila were in the last two revivals.

Gabriele Adorno, Amelia's lover, is the part in which I first heard Marcello Giordani over a decade ago. I expected a big Met career then, and indeed he's having one... but more as a workhorse than as a superstar. He's had some great nights, but this revival is pretty much what you'd expect: professional, with nice Italianate ardor, but hardly able to drive a love scene on his own -- or shed much light on his character's personal grudge against Boccanegra.

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It's the old men who make the show, and their less romantic concerns that therefore take center stage: the pains and labors of fatherhood and statescraft. Between them Placido Domingo and James Morris have eight decades on the Met stage, and each unmistakably shows his authority.

Domingo the tenor singing the classic baritone title-role is, of course, the story, but it might not be for one not listening for it. The part of Boccanegra sits surprisingly -- or not so surprisingly, given that he started out as a baritone, had a relatively dark timbre, and always had issues with tenor top notes -- well in the older Domingo voice. In fact, my real gripe is that he sounds too conventional: Hampson's not-quite-Verdian instrument reminded us that Boccanegra is an outsider, a sort of usurper to the throne who pays for this ascension with his life. (He is poisoned by the intriguer whom he allowed to make him Doge -- though Boccanegra himself, of course, only went along with it to get access to his beloved.) Domingo's still-lush, familiarly forceful singing doesn't. But it is a grand treat.

It's Morris, in fact, who has more audible issues with the range: a number of his character Fiesco's key phrases end on low notes he, as a bass-baritone and not a bass, doesn't much have. But Morris' overall vocal authority is as strong as I've heard him outside Wagner in years, and the craggy, bitter, and yet noble character suits the old Wotan-singer well.

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A drop of quicksilver passion in the lovers could have ignited the evening to yet greater heights, but the old-style display of grand singing was still much. In Patrick Carfizzi (Paolo, the villain) and Richard Bernstein (Pietro) the Met had, with Giordani and Pieczonka, a supporting cast to make all the signing of a strong piece with the veterans' efforts. And the third, perhaps most important grand old man was in the pit: James Levine, himself taking the big objective view of Verdi's late-revised masterpiece while coaxing glorious playing from the third great instrument on display -- the Met Orchestra.

This Boccanegra is the sort of thing Verdi should be, though not everything Verdi could be. If you haven't, see it tomorrow at the moviecast.

1 comment:

  1. I went the same night as you. I too have very vivid memories of Angela Gheorghiu's superb Amelia of 2(?) years ago. I too thought Adrienne P improved throughout the evening. I re-listened to another performance on Sirius, on Tuesday, Feb 2, and she was OUT OF THIS WORLD from the moment she opened her mouth in that horribly difficult Act I entrance.

    I was speechless (save "Bravo"s) about Levine's mastery of the score.

    And as someone who has only heard the opera live once before, I was bewitched by Domingo's performance as SB.

    Part of me wonders if Guiseppe V would have enjoyed such a singer who is well past retirement age stretching himself into a high baritone role. I think GV would have enjoyed it. (It adds a frisson of a love-duet quality to the recognition scene to have it sung by a tenor/soprano.)


Absolutely no axe-grinding, please.