The dead Doge is very alive

Simon Boccanegra

Plácido Domingo (Simon Boccanegra) (Photo: Wiener Staatsoper GmbH © Ashley Taylor)

Simon Boccanegra, opera with a prologue and three acts by Giuseppe Verdi on a libretto by Francesco Maria Piave, based on the play Simón Bocanegra (1843) by Antonio García Gutiérrez. First performed at the Teatro La Fenice in Venice on 12 March 1857. Performance at the Wiener Staatsoper on 1 April 2019.

Simon Boccanegra: Plácido Domingo
Fiesco: Kwangchul Youn
Gabriele Adorno: Francesco Meli
Amelia: Eleonora Buratto
Paolo: Marco Caria
Pietro: Dan Paul Dumitrescu
Hauptmann: Lukhanyo Moyake
Dienerin: Lydia Rathkolb

Orchester und Chor der Wiener Staatsoper
Dirigent: Philippe Auguin
Regie: Peter Stein

Music:
Staging:

A mediocre production sold out to the last seat? There must be another reason for people queuing for standing place tickets at Vienna States Opera hours before the box office opens. A quick look on the cast list gives the answer: Plácido Domingo is back, much loved (not only) by the Viennese audience.

On April 1st, 2019, he sang the last of four performances of Simon Boccanegra within 10 days, a role he had sang there before already in 2011, 2012 and 2013. One might get tired of Peter Stein’s 2002-production, but not of that operatic warhorse Domingo.

Peter Stein, whom I usually like as a stage director, created a minimalistic staging. An almost empty stage with only a few accessories, black curtains reducing (or widening) the scenery, a lot of darkness, but playing with lights to suggest different atmospheres – that’s it. While the costumes (Moidele Bickel) are pleasantly true to the period, the staging of the characters is almost non-existing. Very often the singers stand just at the edge of the stage, facing the audience instead of each other, which is rather disturbing, especially in the love scenes between Adorno and Amelia.

Amelia was Eleonora Buratto, a young soprano from Mantova who studied singing under Mirella Freni and Luciano Pavarotti. She has a silvery shining lyric voice with a warm, creamy, and strong middle range and beautiful legato lines. However, a few times the high notes sounded a bit strained, sharp, and narrowed. Maybe she is thinking about saying farewell to the “lyric” repertoire? Her acting was very convincing, and passionate, and she was also a feast for the eyes.

Handsome, too, was Adorno, Francesco Meli, but his singing was not as half as impressive. I saw all four performances of this run, and his were not as constant as Buratto’s. He had better and less good moments, the only constant was: loudness. Meli has such a nice basic voice, but there are hardly any shades and colours; head-voice alone in piano passages is not enough for my taste. He seemed to try to convince by sheer volume (which is undoubtedly easy for him), but I missed phrased mezza voce singing, or creating different emotions by using different shading of his voice. At times I found myself thinking, “Is it really all about screaming, barking and pushing to the limit?”

Pity, because his voice would be really beautiful, if used with a bit more nuances. His acting was likewise, I missed his getting truly involved with the plot; sometimes I felt him like a foreign body on stage.

The title role of the Doge was sung by Plácido Domingo. And there was all what I was missing in Meli’s case: heartfelt passion, Verdian style, softly caressing low voice in the duet with his newly found daughter Amelia, strong, threatening rage in the condemnation scene with Paolo, majestic singing in the council scene. His “Plebe, patrizi, populo” set one’s teeth on edge. The breathy “Figlia” alone in the cabaletta after the father-daughter duet was worth the ticket price. What nature might have (probably) taken from his former youthful voice’s flexibility and stamina, he made up with experience, technique and ever so heartfelt interpretation.
Given the fact that Domingo was “on tour” twice for a rehearsal and a concert in Valencia between those four performances and that he (as he told later) had woken up with a sore throat in the morning of the final performance, it feels almost “superhuman” what this already 78 years old artist is still able to achieve.

Aging has probably already started earlier in Kwangchul Youn’s case, although he is 25 years younger than his “almost son-in-law” on stage. The former winner in Domingo’s “Operalia” competition (1993) sang the role of Fiesco. There were moments in which his voice started to wobble, and the power seemed to fade. His voice is still a very attractive bass voice, but for my taste it is not “black” enough for Fiesco. However, he made up for that with remarkable acting, being as credible as “young” Fiesco as as “old” one.

Very impressive was Marco Cania as Paolo, a role that is often underestimated. Strong, powerful singing with a dangerous undertone and a coarse, but credible portrayal of this evil character made him an outstanding performer of the evening. The supporting roles of Pietro (Dan Paul Dumitrescu), Amelia’s maid (Lydia Rathkolb) and the Captain (Lukhanyo Moyake) added up to an almost overall strong cast.
In the first performance of the run, I found Philippe Auguin’s conducting quite unusual. After getting adjusted to his rather unconventional changes in tempi, I liked the inspiring way to support the singers. In a few scenes I would have preferred less volume, but all in all it was a solid job.

The unusual end of the evening was an honouring on stage – for Plácido Domingo. It was his 4000th operatic singing performance (!) that very evening. Opera director Dominique Meyer came out after the curtain calls and held a short, but very emotional speech, accompanied by standing ovations from the audience and dozens of little banners with “4000 x DANKE” (Thank you), raised by people throughout the audience. As a nice gift Mr Meyer gave the “jubilarian” the protocol of his first audition at Vienna States Opera from 1967. In this report it was stated “excellent material”, describing the young Domingo’s voice. And 52 years later, this is still valid. What an amazing, extraordinary gift – in many ways.

Gabi Eder (Published 7/4/2019)

Photos Wiener Staatsoper GmbH © Ashley Taylor.

3 Comments

  1. Dragos Cojocaru schreef:

    What an incredible, astronomic achievement for Placido Domingo! Even without rehearsals, this was an outstanding performance, particularly thanks to him. I was lucky to attend (only) one show of the run (the one holding the number 3999 of his operatic career)! Long live the King of the Opera!

  2. Christine Linke schreef:

    Plácido Domingo is INCREDIBLE, his achievements in a more than 50-years long career…and still going strong…are UNREPEATABLE and his “Simon Boccanegra” is a MIRACLE!

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