Watching Simon Boccanegra by Giuseppe Verdi, Lyric Opera of Chicago’s second production of the 2012/2013 season, produced in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, my companion and I sat transfixed, so impacted by the poignancy of this opera that we were brought nearly to tears.
Inspired by the life of the first Doge of Genoa, Italy, Simon Boccanegra who lived in the 1300’s and was popular among his people, ruling for many years until he was poisoned in 1363, the story itself is very compelling. In the opera the audience learns of the rich Patricians and poor Plebians, ongoing wars, honor, loyalty, the agony of ruling, and family problems, timely during this election season. The theme of the opera that depicts a leader who tried to bring peace and wanted to unite his country was inspiring.
In the Lyric Opera of Chicago website, Roger Pines tells the main story, (Verdi for Adults) which is part of a longer article in which you can gain a deeper understanding of many aspects of the opera.
“In 14th-century Genoa, Simon Boccanegra (baritone Thomas Hampson) is a young, bold corsair. Paolo Albiani (baritone Quinn Kelsey) of the plebeians’ party persuades Boccanegra (baritone Thomas Hampson) to accept should he be chosen as the new Doge. Boccanegra hopes he’ll then be allowed to marry Maria Fiesco, who has borne him a child. To his horror, he discovers that Maria has died, and her child has disappeared. When Boccanegra is elected as Doge, this enrages the patrician Fiesco (bass Ferruccio Furlanetto), who cannot forgive the plebeian Boccanegra for seducing his daughter Maria. Twenty-five years later, Boccanegra discovers that the patrician Amelia Grimaldi (soprano Krassimira Stoyanova, debut) is his own long-lost daughter. Amelia rejects Paolo as a suitor, since she loves Gabriele Adorno (tenor Frank Lopardo). The vengeful Paolo plots with Fiesco against the Doge, poisoning wine that Boccanegra drinks. He dies, having reconciled with Fiesco and blessed the union of Amelia and Gabriele, who is proclaimed the new Doge.”
However, this was not the story of Verdi’s opera during its first 24 years before it was revised and became very popular. The lyric.org website is a wonderful place to learn more about each opera. In a discussion between Anthony Freud, General Director, Sir Andrew Davis, Music Director and Renee Fleming, Creative Consultant, they noted the unusual and moving duet between father and daughter, the wonderful addition of the chorus and the unusual baritone role. Then they puzzled as to why this opera is not more popular than it is because it has some of the most exquisite music in all of opera. Jane, who was seated just behind me was surprised that so much information is available on the Lyric Opera of Chicago website.
Simon Boccanegra begins with a prologue and continues in three acts. The original production included the Italian libretto by Francesco Maria Piave, which was based on Simon Boccanegra, the (1843) play by Antonio Garcia Gutierrez. When it opened at the Teatro La Fenice in Venice March 12 1857, it opened with a scene with the chorus and included dancing, and was not well received. The revised version was strengthened with the libretto changes by Arrigo Boito heightened dramatic elements. Both Boito and Verdi gained skills in the dramatic elements of the stage over the years between the two versions.
When the revised version was performed at La Scala in Milan on March 24, 1881, it was enthusiastically received. Certainly this Lyric Opera of Chicago’s production was enthusiastically received with the audience rising to a standing ovation.
This production was so captivating that we did not want it to end and when it did, we wanted to see it again. The sets (Set Designer, Michael Yeargan) made you feel as though you were right in the scene with the performers. The torches and shadows were noteworthy, lending a feeling of foreboding (Lighting Designer, Duane Schuler). The costumes brought the audience into the period (Costume Designer, Peter J. Hall). The chorus (Chorus Master, Martin Wright) was wonderful in voice, costume and movement. Through out the opera the choreographed movements perfectly matched the music (Director, Elijah Moshinsky).
Add to all this gorgeous voices blending with the orchestra (Conductor, Sir Andrew Davis) in duets, especially between father and daughter and the most gripping and powerful, the council Chamber scene between the two enemies, Boccanegra and Fiesco, trios, and solos, each of which reached to core of our being, moving us deeply. This was an unforgettable opera experience – not to be missed.
We always enjoy the free lecture that precedes each opera, beginning one hour before performance time.
Lyric Opera of Chicago
20 N. Wacker Drive
Chicago, Il 60606
Photos: Dan Rest