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Simon Boccanegra returned to the Met on Monday in the handsome, ultratraditional production staged a dozen years ago by Giancarlo del Monaco and designed by Michael Scott (David Kneuss currently holds the book). The convoluted masterpiece cast its spell in spite of first nighters who interrupted the music to applaud the scenery, the diva’s entrance and numerous false cadences.
Although the performance encountered some casting problems – everyone finds Verdi vexing these days – the composer’s honour was championed by three heroes. Fabio Luisi conducted with lyrical grace counterbalanced by dramatic passion. This man understands the period and the style, the inherent sweep and pathos. Ferruccio Furlanetto brought towering dignity and rolling amplitude to the deep, descending laments of Fiesco. Marcello Giordani triumphed in the thankless duties of Gabriele Adorno, his tenor equally impressive in challenges of bravado and introspection.
One had to make some allowances for the protagonist and heroine. Thomas Hampson always was a smart singer and a smart actor, and his poised, incisive baritone has taken on considerable weight in recent years. Still, the breadth and warmth of a true Verdi baritone elude him. Occasionally he had to substitute odd falsetto cries for genuine mezza voce whispers. Crucial example: the heartbreaking octave-drop on “figlia” at the close of the recognition scene. Essentially, this was a noble effort, but not the real thing. Optimistically cast as his daughter Amelia, Angela Gheorghiu looked exquisite and sounded lyrically poised if a bit edgy under pressure. Although one admired her shimmering piano, one longed for the contrast of a powerful forte. One also waited in vain for a genuine trill at the apex of the council-chamber scene. Verdi surely wanted a richer, more sensuous timbre.
Vassily Gerello snivelled through the villainous platitudes of Paolo. The Ukrainian baritone seemed especially weak next to Richard Bernstein, who magnetised attention in the lesser duties of Pietro. It was one of those nights at the opera.
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