Verdi's Simon Boccanegra
The Gramophone Choice
Piero Cappuccilli (bar) Simon Boccanegra Mirella Freni (sop) Amelia José Carreras (ten) Gabriele Nicolai Ghiaurov (bass) Fiesco José van Dam (bass-bar) Paolo Giovanni Foiani (bass) Pietro Antonio Savastano (ten) Captain Maria Fausta Gallamini (sop) Maid Chorus and Orchestra of La Scala, Milan / Claudio Abbado
DG The Originals 449 752-2GOR2 (136' · ADD · T/t) Recorded 1977. Buy from Amazon
This famous recording has become a classic, a studio performance following a series of performances at La Scala in the Strehler staging. The close, slightly claustrophobic recording exactly mirrors the mood of nefarious activities and intrigues following Boccanegra’s rise to be Doge of Genoa, he and his lovely daughter victims of the dark deeds round them. In his plebeian being, clement exercise of authority and warm, fatherly love, Simon Boccanegra is made for Cappuccilli, who, under Abbado’s tutelage, sings it not only con amore but with exemplary, delicately tinted tone and unbelievably long-breathed phrasing. As his daughter Amelia, Freni was just entering her quasi-spinto phase and expands her lyric voice easily into the greater demands of this more dramatic role. Similarly heavier duties hadn’t yet tarnished the youthful ardour and sap in the tone of the 30-year-old Carreras. As the implacable Fiesco, Ghiaurov exudes vengeful command, and van Dam evil machinations as the villain Paolo.
Over all presides Abbado in what remains one of his greatest recordings, alert to every facet of the wondrous score, timing every scene, in an opera tricky to pace, to near-perfection, and bringing theatrical drama into the home. This set should be essential to any reputable collection of Verdi.
Plácido Domingo (bar) Simon Boccanegra Marina Poplavskaya (sop) Amelia Joseph Calleja (ten) Gabriele Ferruccio Furlanetto (bass) Fiesco Jonathan Summers (bass) Paolo Lukas Jakobski (bar) Pietro Lee Hickenbottom (ten) Captain Louise Armit (mez) Maid Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden / Antonio Pappano
Stage director Elijah Moshinsky
Film director Sue Judd
EMI DVD 917825-9 (171’ · NTSC · 16:9 · LPCM stereo and 5.1 · 0). Recorded live 2010. Buy from Amazon
Plácido Domingo entered the baritone Fach with a recording of Rossini’s Figaro, a TV film of Rigoletto and – in Berlin, Milan, New York, London and Madrid – Boccanegra onstage, a role with which he once talked of ending his career.
We should cut to the chase. Domingo (as stage director Elijah Moshinsky comments in one of the release’s supporting interviews) does not sing Simon Boccanegra as a tenor or as a baritone, but as Plácido Domingo. No vocal Tarnhelm has suddenly magicked a different-sounding timbre for this voice: here is, simply, Domingo singing – and evidently enjoying singing – a part that’s lower down. You may argue that this undersells, or even traduces, the two great no-tenors-allowed confrontations of this opera – the duets with Fiesco (Ferrucio Furlanetto) in the Prologue and Act 3 – but Domingo’s age and experience make up a little for the loss of lower sonorities. And the bigger difference in the voices here permits a greater antagonism of the characters and clarity of text. Elsewhere, the statesman in Domingo’s character makes much of the Council Chamber scene. That, and Verdi’s enjoyment of a newer, more pungent brass style, look forward even more than usual to Otello.
What we might here cheekily call the supporting cast are strong – Furlanetto and Calleja’s Adorno moving and Summers (a Boccanegra himself) experienced and wily as the Doge’s adversary Paolo. Poplavskaya tends to frown a lot but has the height and stature of both figure and voice. The present DVD release, directed by Sue Judd for the BBC and speedily assembled from three Covent Garden performances, does not have to be Beckmesser-marked up in a comparative list of small-screen Boccanegras. It may be best viewed as a tribute to a singer’s achievement; a focus that should be shared here with the Royal Opera’s music director and his orchestra and chorus, the epitome of style and polish in this repertoire.