At the heart of the opera is the tender relationship between the ruler of the title, the Doge of Genoa, and his illegitimate daughter Amelia, with whom he is reunited after many years. But she is in love with Gabriele Adorno, one of the men who is plotting the downfall of the Doge, a man of the people elevated by the popular vote.
Armenian soprano Hrachuhi Bassenz sings the role of Amelia Grimaldi. Photo: Clive Barda
The fickle nature of the populace is heightened when the 1991 production is framed by the fractious and reactionary world in 2018. As the action unfolds, the mob relish a skirmish with their neighbours, but the dignity of the elders finally wins through with an anthem to peace and harmony.
Words are persuasive and powerful, as illustrated by the contrast between the hateful graffiti of the crowd compared with the solemn gilded pledges of the elders. Michael Yeargan's set designs, Peter J Hall's costumes and John Harrison's strong lighting all point up the meaning of the piece.
The radiant Armenian soprano Hrachuhi Bassenz sings Amelia with a frankness that reflects the young woman's simple upbringing. The Spanish baritone Carlos Alvararez in the title role is every inch, and every note, the leader who has grown in wisdom as well as power.
Mark Rucker as scheming Paolo and Carlos Alvarez in the title role of Simon Boccanegra. Photo: Clive Barda
Italian tenor Francesco Meli is the hot-headed Adorno and the Italian bass Ferruccio Furlanetto is the spiteful Fiesco, who kept Amelia's mother, his daughter, a prisoner. This is a great voice that occasionally veers off-course.
Piloting the whole vessel from the pit is the young Hungarian Henrik Nánási. His vision of Verdi is more angular and less lyrical than some, but the muscular playing by the Orchestra of the Royal Opera included bass clarinet work to chill the bone, and the Chorus unfurls its power like a billowing sail.
Written after La Traviata (you can see this in a fine ROH production from January), and much revised over the years, Simon Boccanegra is the work of a fast-maturing composer engaged in real life in both the drama of family and politics. Impossible to hear Boccanegra and Maria's reunion, 'Orfanella, il tetto umile...', and his final blessing 'Gran Dio, li benedici' and not be moved to tears.
'Simon Boccanegra' is sung in Italian with English surtitles. Remaining performances are on 19, 24 and 27 Nov; 1, 5, and 10 Dec.
|What||Simon Boccanegra review , Royal Opera House|
|Where||Royal Opera House, Bow Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 9DD | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Covent Garden (underground)|
15 Nov 18 – 10 Dec 18, Times vary; 7 performances, running time about 3 hours
|Website||Click here for more information and booking|