Stefano Ranzani conducts Verdi's 'Simon Boccanegra',
reviewed by GIUSEPPE PENNISI
reviewed by GIUSEPPE PENNISI
Giuseppe Verdi spent almost twenty five years to complete the definitive version of Simon Boccanegra (Very Welcome, 27 March 2010). In spite of La Scala's success in 1881 (with Arrigo Boito's extensive re-writing of the libretto and many changes to the score), for decades Simon Boccanegra has been considered a minor opera in the Verdi catalogue. According to several authors, the opera's revival was due to Claudio Abbado's 1971 La Scala production, which traveled all over the world. In 2000, a new and quite different production under Abbado's baton was the hit of the Salzburg festival. In my view, after World War II, the real discovery of the richness of Simon Boccanegra was due to the efforts of Gianandrea Gavazzeni. Riccardo Muti, the star in conducting Verdi, took up the challenge only at the age of seventy-one, with a 2012 Rome Teatro dell'Opera production (Psychological Evolution, 4 December 2012) which toured Japan last Spring. In Fall 2013, both the Parma and Turin opera houses opened their respective 'seasons' with two very different productions of Simon (Pure Enjoyment, 14 November 2013).
This year, La Scala is proposing the revival of a 2009 production, a joint venture with Berlin Staatsoper and the Metropolitan Opera House. It is staged from 31 October 2014 for nearly three weeks, and with two different casts, as the last opera of the 2013-14 season. In Venice, La Fenice will inaugurate the 2014-15 season with a brand new Simon. This vindicates the troubles this Verdi title has had for decades and confirms my oft-repeated statement that Simon is one of the composer's most modern operas.
I was at La Scala on 31 October 2014. The Federico Tiezzi production is quite essential. It was found 'untraditional' and 'too innovative' by New York's Metropolitan Opera House, but it follows Western European dramaturgical standards for sets that have to fit different stages. There is a simple structure providing a view of the sea as often as possible: for the protagonist, the sea represents the freedom he lost when he was forced to enter politics to follow his love dream. Acting is central, and most of the singers are good actors.
In conducting Verdi, I prefer Stefano Ranzani to Daniel Barenboim who is in the pit from 6 November 2014. The latter dilates the tempos and imposes himself on the singers. Ranzani comes from Gianandrea Gavazzeni's school and is his best follower. He depicts a dark, nearly bleak, human tragedy and takes the singers' needs into full account, and he provided the right colours and atmosphere.
At the age of seventy-three, Leo Nucci is still an effective Simon, especially in the taxing first Act: he was really imposing both dramatically and vocally in the Council Chamber scene at the end of the act. Carmen Giannattasio was a superb Maria/Amalia, sweet and tender in the two duets of the first scene of Act I (with, respectively, her lover and her father) and forceful in her appeal for peace in the second scene of Act I and in her defense of Simon in Act II.
At the age of fifty-four, Ramòn Vargas did not seem a good fit for the Gabriele Adorno role: perhaps he had a bad evening, but his timbre has lost his luster and in the Act II main aria he faulted a couple of notes.
Paolo Albiani interpreted by Vitaliy Bilyy and Jacopo Fiesco by Alexander Tsymbalyuk were both of good standard.
The generous opening night audience responded with accolades to Nucci, Gianattasio and Ranzani, and applauded the others.