Try the new FT.com

June 9, 2011 5:53 pm

Simon Boccanegra, Coliseum, London

  • Share
  • Print
  • Clip
  • Gift Article
  • Comments

Directors who make a sudden splash have a lot to live up to, as Dmitri Tcherniakov found after his Bolshoi Onegin five years ago. Outside the comfort zone of his native Russia and its repertoire, his shows have been disappointing, and English National Opera’s new Verdi is no exception. It is superficially “modern”, with costumes and decor of our time, but beneath the veneer lies an old-fashioned, gimmicky production with pokey ensembles and an empty heart.

Its only insight is to depict Boccanegra in the Prologue as a whisky-slurping good-for-nothing, the perfect pawn for a political fixer such as Paolo. Fast forward 25 years to the start of Act One, and we understand how far Genoa’s plebeian capo, now a bespectacled grey suit, has travelled.

But is it Genoa? Verdi’s music speaks of the sea. The libretto is full of maritime references. Boccanegra himself is a “pirate”. There’s ne’er a whiff of this in Tcherniakov’s sterile interiors. Verdi’s hero is a statesman and peacemaker. Tcherniakov’s is a small-town apparatchik presiding over a council chamber that could pass as a comprehensive classroom or municipal function suite.

There is a lot of flim-flam masquerading as “production” – the hysterical dragging around of Maria's corpse in the Prologue, the half-in, half-out delivery of Gabriele Adorno's serenade, the paper hat donned by the doge for his death scene. The acting is so self-consciously anti-operatic that singers frequently face backstage, muffling their voices. Every scene change is accompanied by a long synopsis on the drop-curtain, some of it blatantly misleading.

These irritants might have been mitigated by stylish singing. The most effective contribution comes from Brindley Sherratt's Fiesco, whose bass sounds authentically Verdian. As Boccanegra, Bruno Caproni’s experience cannot mask a sadly diminished baritone. Peter Auty’s Gabriele Adorno lacks sweetness, while Rena Harms’s angelic soprano enunciates well but is two sizes too small for Amelia.

It falls to ENO’s music director, Edward Gardner, and the orchestra to remind us that Verdi’s opera is far more complex and sensitively coloured than anything we see or hear on stage. 

 

ENO

Related Topics

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. You may share using our article tools.
Please don't cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.

  • Share
  • Print
  • Clip
  • Gift Article
  • Comments

LIFE AND ARTS ON TWITTER

More FT Twitter accounts
SHARE THIS QUOTE