As most Verdi mavens are aware, the original version of Simon Boccanegra (1857) was a failure. With the help of librettist Arrigo Boito, himself a first-rate composer, Verdi reworked the opera, turning out a new rendition in 1881 substantially different from, and better-crafted than, the original. As the headnote above indicates, this is the 1881 Simon, the version one almost always encounters in opera houses or on recordings. Indeed, the original was only first staged outside Italy in 1995, when it was given at Covent Garden during a Verdi festival.
Recorded in June, 2002, at the Teatro Comunale in Florence, this Claudio Abbado-led performance on TDK is a fine one. It's not surprising: the conductor has a fine cast, with Carlo Guelfi as Simon and Julian Konstantinov as Fiesco turning in especially fine work. Their last Act duet, to cite just one example, is gripping. Perhaps most impressive, though, is Karita Mattila, who created a bit of a stir (more for her sexy dancing than for her considerable vocal talents) in Salome at the Met, in March, 2004. She makes a splendid Amelia: speaking of duets, hers from Act II with Vincenzo La Scola is quite touching, but of course some of the credit here must also go to La Scola. Lucio Gallo as the evil Paolo is quite good, too, but then, as suggested above, there really isn't a weak spot anywhere in the cast.
The Peter Stein production is fine too, from the sets and lighting to the colorful costuming. The opera was shot with a television perspective, giving you a full-screen view of the action; and the sound reproduction is first-rate, featuring an especially fine sense for balance, both vocally and instrumentally. The orchestra plays splendidly for Abbado too, and the chorus, under the leadership of chorus master Jose Luis Basso, is also fine. Highly recommended.
Copyright © 2004, Robert Cummings