Simon Boccanegra (DVD)
Christian Gerhaher, Jennifer Rowley, Nicholas Brownlee, Otar Jorjikia; Zurich Opera Choir; Philharmonia Zurich/Fabio Luisi; dir. Andreas Homoki (Zurich, 2020)
Accentus ACC20510 142:13 mins
Simon Boccanegra is often considered to be an opera for the Verdi connoisseur. Relatively infrequently performed, it lacks the romance and hummable tunes of the composer’s evergreen favourites, offering in their place intrigue and musical sophistication. In this production from the Zurich Opera House, director Andreas Homoki gives the opera a fittingly refined treatment, moving the prologue and main action from the 1330s/’60s to a subtly evoked 1895/1920. There is something Nordic about Homoki’s Genoa, the minimalist grey revolving sets reminiscent of the muted interiors of the Danish painter Vilhelm Hammershøi.
Dramatic performances are similarly understated but in no sense lacking in intensity. Though not on the face of it an obvious Verdian, Christian Gerhaher gives a winning performance as the eponymous Doge, bringing all the nuance to the text that we would expect from a master of the Lieder genre. Jennifer Rowley (Amelia) boasts vocal sumptuousness and a certain mature poise. Nicholas Brownlee is mahogany-voiced as Paolo Albiani; Otar Jojikia (Gabriele Adorno) acts well but shows a slight strain in the upper register.
Filmed in front of a tiny audience in December 2020, the DVD cuts straight to the credits with no applause at the end, adding to the chilly intimacy of the performance. A small note at the back of the accompanying booklet reveals that the orchestra and chorus were not even in the theatre but in a hall a kilometre away. Not a single glitch in their luminous performance under conductor Fabio Luisi gives this fact away. Overall, a class act.