Verdi: Simon Boccanegra

COMPOSERS: Verdi
LABELS: TDK
ALBUM TITLE: Verdi
WORKS: Simon Boccanegra
PERFORMER: Thomas Hampson, Ferruccio Furlanetto, Cristina Gallardo-Domâs, Miroslav Dvorsky; Chorus & Orchestra of Vienna State Opera/Daniele Gatti; dir. Peter Stein (Vienna, 2002)
CATALOGUE NO: TDK DVWW-OPSIBOW (NTSC system; DD 5.1, dts 5.1; 16:9 anamorphic)
If you dropped in by chance on one of the world’s major opera houses and saw this performance you wouldn’t be annoyed but you’d hardly be excited. This kind of DVD does make you wonder by what criteria major companies decide to immortalise a particular cast and production. Simon Boccanegra, Verdi’s most sombre opera, contains in this revised version some of his greatest music; but it remains an uneven piece, and strong advocacy is needed of the kind most famously given at La Scala Milan by Abbado and Giorgio Strehler. This production of Peter Stein’s is happily ungimmicky, lucid, but simple to a fault. There is virtually no scenery, and what there is doesn’t convey the strong atmosphere of this piece. And the singers are left to do what opera singers do if no one tells them otherwise, with stock gestures that make the absurdly melodramatic plot seem worse than it need be.

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The central figure is taken by Thomas Hampson, still in 2002 mellifluous of voice, but a stilted actor as always, who has three expressions which he rotates. As his arch-enemy, finally reconciled

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in one of Verdi’s most inward scenes, Ferruccio Furlanetto is somewhat nobler in style, both to see and hear – he is indeed the main strength of the set. Cristina Gallardo-Domas is done no favours by the close filming, with her vast mouth constantly at full stretch, and a tendency to over-sing. Daniele Gatti’s conducting is efficient, but without Abbado’s unique insights. Michael Tanner