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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Opera Review: To Rule, He Must Lower Himself

Placído Domingo in Simon Boccanegra at the Met.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Placido Domingo as Boccanegra.
Photo © 2008 The Metropolitan Opera
The season premiere of the Met's revival of Verdi's political drama Simon Boccanegra gave New Yorkers the rare opportunity to see Placido Domingo as the star baritone in a Verdi opera. Now 69 years of age and nearing the end of his singing career, Domingo, (who first auditioned in Mexico as a baritone) lowered his range and took a chance tackling the toughest baritone role in the Italian repertory.

Boccanegra is a compelling father figure who must alternate intimate moments with his long-lost daughter and also have the power to dominate the stage action as the Doge (leader) of Genoa. Domingo succeeded on all counts, singing as low as he dared and relying on his fine acting skills to carry him through this opera's treacherous waters.

Most singers tackling this role run out of steam after the first act, which alternates the moving reunion scene between Boccanegra and his daughter, Amelia, with the demanding tableau set in the Council Chamber of Genoa. Domingo used the Council Chamber scene as a springboard into the rest of the opera, the tragic second and third acts in which his character is killed with slow poison. He shone in the many duets and trio ensembles that Verdi gives the character, and his positive momentum continued all the way up to the death scene.

The supporting cast was able, if not ideal. James Morris was an interesting choice for Fiesco, the proud nobleman whose feud with Boccanegra (he's Amelia's grandfather) provides much of the opera's complex plot. Casting him opposite Domingo was a bit of a stunt--as a bass-baritone he lacks the ideal theater-shaking low notes that Verdi wrote for the characte. The end of "Il lacerato spirito" was a hollow disappointment.

However, his performance improved greatly in the character's final confrontation with Boccanegra. Baritone Patrick Carfizzi gave a fine performance as Paolo, the scheming villain who gets Boccanegra elected, then poisons him. He is a singer to watch.

The young lovers were also problematic. Adrianna Pieczonka was a competent Amelia, but failed to make the role memorable. The "Figlia" duet should melt the heart, and while Domingo did his best, it was clear that they was not well matched. As Gabriele Adorno, veteran tenor Marcello Giordani got off to a rough start in the first act. His high-and-tight singing was less that ideal. One wishes that Domingo, fifteen years younger was available to fill the role, as he did at the premiere of this production in 1995. But then who would sing Boccanegra?
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.