A superb cast ignites the Met’s compelling revival of “Boccanegra”
The role of Simon Boccanegra was reclaimed for the baritone range last night at the Metropolitan Opera after a certain tenor commandeered the nobleman for a Simon Boccanegra marathon last season that took him to the Met and various other international opera houses. Like so much of what Plácido Domingo has touched over his long career, his Boccanegra was a personal triumph. Indeed, one scarcely expected that the opera, which has always appealed more to the connoisseur than to the average opera fan, would be back so soon.
But back it is, and with a protagonist designed to ward off any sense of letdown and with a significantly improved supporting cast. Boccanegra has been in Dmitri Hvorostovsky’s repertoire for some time now, but this is its first outing at the Met. His performance exudes confidence as well as an appreciation for the noble character of a man who began life as a corsair but later as doge of Genoa sought to be a peacemaker. It is a special role, which is why someone like Domingo would want to sing it.
Boccanegra’s transformation is underscored by a 25-year time gap between the Prologue and Act 1. At first one hardly recognized Hvorostovsky as he made an unusually lithe entrance, his hair (in the Prologue) colored brown rather than his trademark platinum. But the characteristic beauty and richness of the voice, as well as his long-spanned phrasing, soon established themselves and invested the music with special warmth. The voice has a mellowness that can often make him sound reserved. Yet he succeeds in bringing ardor to climatic moments, as in his call for peace in the Council Chamber Scene, without pushing. And his chilling command to his henchman Paolo, E tu, repeti il guiro was delivered with frightening menace.
Another high point in his performance was the recognition duet Boccanegra sings with his long lost daughter Maria (known as Amelia for most of the opera), who benefited mightily from soprano Barbara Frittoli’s sterling singing. The dearth of worthy Verdi sopranos is a fact of life, but Frittoli has developed into the genuine article. The voice is firm, substantial, resonant and consistent throughout its range. Just last season she sang Micaela in the new production of Carmen, but her Amelia shows that her talents can be more valuably deployed. Although there were many telling moments throughout the evening, she was especially moving in the duet when telling Boccanegra about the woman who cared for her as a child, singing with a passion that understandably elicited the doge’s expression of hope that he may indeed have found his daughter.
Another gripping performance, but one that was confidently expected, came from Ferruccio Furlanetto, who, as Boccanegra’s antagonist Fiesco, was the only leading principal to have sung his or her role previously at the Met. Fiesco can be a stern, implacable figure, but Furlanetto’s powerful bass voice was often tinged with emotion even before Fiesco’s moving duet of reconciliation with Boccangra in the final act.
Roberto De Biasio, replacing an ill Ramón Vargas, made his Met debut and scored a hit as Amelia’s lover Gabriele Adorno. De Biasio has a fine, Italianate tenor, one that is somewhat on the dark side and not notably charged with squillo but carries easily. He was consistently engaging dramatically and won an ovation for his aria Sento avvampar nell’anima. Another successful debut was made by Nicola Alaimo, who sang Paolo with a strong if slightly woolly baritone.
James Levine again conducted, as he did last season. He now walks with a cane and looks fragile when doing so, but on the podium he showed much of his own stamina, even vigor, and used both arms actively. His performance brought no special insights and certainly was not flashy, but it projected the opera’s essence with compelling dignity.
In fact, the performance was so good that it transcended the known deficiencies of Giancarlo del Monaco’s ultra-traditional production, with picture-postcard sets by Michael Scott.
Simon Boccanegra runs through Feb. 5. metoperafamily.org