ALBUM TITLE: Verdi
WORKS: Simon Boccanegra
PERFORMER: Vladimir Chernov, Kiri Te Kanawa, Plácido Domingo; Metropolitan Opera Chorus & Orchestra/James Levine; dir. Giancarlo del Monaco (New York, 1995)
CATALOGUE NO: 073 031-9
Say what you will, but the Met in New York knows a thing or four about casting singers. This Simon Boccanegra fields a quartet of the very best, and in their prime. Vladimir Chernov is magnificent in the title-role, a properly lyrical baritone with an unerring instinct for characterisation. Here’s a Simon
who is totally credible as a one-time buccaneer along the Ligurian coast, and who, when weighed down by the office, visibly shrinks into himself as Doge of Genoa. A Doge, too, who makes no attempt to conceal his desire for Maria before he discovers that she is his lost daughter.
Te Kanawa’s Maria is sweetly lyrical. Her Act I aria ‘Come in quest’ora bruna’ brings the house down. And Plácido Domingo’s Gabriele is just as much of a crowd-pleaser. But it’s the darker voices that linger in the mind’s ear after the final curtain, which is just as it should be in Verdi’s darkest opera. The confrontations between Boccanegra and his patrician enemy Fiesco which bookend the opera are magnificently sung, with Robert Lloyd in superb voice as Fiesco.
How disappointing, then, that James Levine plays fast and loose or rather fast and very slow with Verdi’s tempi, stretching the prelude to Act I until it all but snaps. As for Giancarlo del Monaco’s production, designed by Michael Scott, it’s precisely what audiences expect at the Met. Old-fashioned naturalism with a garden choking with plastic roses in full bloom for Maria and a painted Council Chamber for the Doge and the Senate that is High Renaissance opulence at its most vulgar. How strange that no one noticed that Verdi and his librettists set the piece in the late Middle Ages. Christopher Cook