Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra is an emotionally potent exploration of hatred, love, political treachery, tragedy and remorse, with music that captures perfectly the opera’s mixture of high drama, tenderness and melancholy reflectiveness. Genoa’s Doge Simon Boccanegra strives to unite the warring factions in his city. A reunion with his long-lost daughter promises happiness for the lonely Boccanegra – but he soon has to deal with treachery, plots against his life and a full-scale rebellion. Elijah Moshinsky’s stunning production beautifully captures the atmosphere of Renaissance Genoa and Verdi’s musical meditations on mortality.
Elijah Moshinsky’s impressive staging of Verdi’s most subtle opera, Simon Boccanegra, is inspired by Italian Renaissance art and was first seen in November 1991. Set designs by Michael Yeargan, costume designs by Peter J. Hall and lighting design by John Harrison give visual life to this 14th-century drama.
Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra was first performed in Venice in 1857, but it was his revised 1881 version, first performed at La Scala, Milan, with revisions to the libretto by Arrigo Boito, which became the most successful version of this opera. The opera is based on a play by the Spanish writer Ántonio García Gutiérrez (whose work also inspired Verdi’s Il trovatore), in which intense familial relationships play out against a background of political tension: a favourite scenario for Verdi. Boito and Verdi’s revised version includes a totally rewritten final scene for Act I, set in the Council Chamber. Moshinsky’s production uses the 1881 version of the opera and returns this Season for its seventh revival.
As the opera opens, Genoa’s plebeians and patricians (aristocrats) are in fierce conflict. The plebeian corsair Simon Boccanegra is persuaded to stand as a candidate in the elections for a Doge. Boccanegra has had a daughter with Maria Fiesco, daughter of the aristocrat Jacopo Fiesco. The girl has disappeared, and, as the crowd proclaim him Doge, Boccanegra learns from Fiesco that Maria has died. Twenty-five years later, Boccanegra meets an orphaned woman called Amelia Grimaldi and discovers she is his long-lost daughter. Father and daughter are overjoyed to find each other, but their happiness is short-lived, as Genoese aristocrats including Amelia’s lover Gabriele Adorno are planning a rebellion and Boccanegra’s own adviser Paolo has turned against him.
Family relationships fascinated Verdi in his operas, and he wrote wonderful father-daughter duets. The Act I scene 1 duet between Simon Boccanegra and Amelia is one of the most moving celebrations of the father-daughter relationship, an exquisite episode of tenderness in an opera full of political and personal turmoil. Among the opera’s other highlights are Fiesco’s lament for his dead daughter in the Prologue, the great choruses in Act I’s Council Chamber scene, and Boccanegra’s death scene in Act III.
Hungarian conductor Henrik Nánási returns to The Royal Opera, following his critically acclaimed performances of Salome in the 2017–18 Season. He has also conducted Il barbiere di Siviglia and Turandot for The Royal Opera. He is the former Music Director of Komische Oper Berlin. Recent performance include Elektra (San Francisco), La bohème and Die Zauberflote (Rome) and Otello (Frankfurt). Plans include Duke Bluebeard’s Castle and Iolanta (Metropolitan Opera, New York) and Die Zauberflote (Paris Opéra).
The dashing corsair Simon Boccanegra is one of Verdi’s most complex and sympathetic baritone roles. Spanish baritone Carlos Alvarez sings the role for the first time at Covent Garden. He has previously sung Boccanegra in Madrid and Paris. His roles for The Royal Opera have included Giorgio Germont (La traviata), De Sirieux (Fedora) and Rigoletto. His recent appearances have included Rigoletto for Arena di Verona and the Liceu, Barcelona, Carlo Gérard (Andrea Chénier) for the Liceu and Escamillo (Carmen) and High Priest of Dagon (Samson et Dalila) in Vienna.
Armenian soprano Hrachuhi Bassenz sings the role of Boccanegra’s daughter Amelia. She made her debut with The Royal Opera in the 2016/17 Season as Adriana Lecouvreur and returned in the 2017/18 Season to sing Donna Elvira (Don Giovanni) and in The Royal Opera’s Spring Gala. Recent roles include Norma for Norwegian National Opera and Mimì (La bohème) in Vienna and Nuremberg. She is currently a member of Semperoper Dresden.
The role of Gabriele Adorno is sung by Italian tenor Francesco Meli. He made his Royal Opera debut in 2009 as Duke of Mantua (Rigoletto) and his roles for The Royal Opera have also included Jacopo Foscari (I due Foscari), Manrico (Il trovatore) and, in the 2017/18 Season, Don José (Carmen). His recent roles have included Don José for Arena di Verona, Ernani for La Scala, Milan, and Riccardo (Un ballo in maschera) for La Fenice, Venice.
Returning to the role of Jacopo Fiesco, Boccanegra’s arch enemy, is Italian bass Ferruccio Furlanetto. He sang the role at Covent Garden in 2008 in Ian Judge’s production and returned as Fiesco in the 2010 and 2013 revivals of Elijah Moshinsky’s production. He made his debut with The Royal Opera in 1995 as Figaro (Le nozze di Figaro) and his roles for the Company have also included Don Giovanni, Count Walter (Luisa Miller), Padre Guardiano (La forza del destino), Philip II (Don Carlo), Don Basilio (Il barbiere di Siviglia) and Prince Gremin (Eugene Onegin). He returns later in the Season to sing Padre Guardiano.
American baritone Mark Rucker makes his Royal Opera debut in the role of Paolo Albiani. Recent roles include Amonasro (Aida) for Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires, Jack Rance (La fanciulla del West) for Opera Colorado, Denver, and Macbeth for Opera Tampa, Florida.
Former Jette Parke Young Artist (2016–18) South African bass Simon Shibambu sings the role of Pietro. His recent roles with The Royal Opera have included Nino’s Ghost (Semiramide), Count Ceprano (Rigoletto), Cesare Angelotti (Tosca), Doctor (Macbeth), Steward/Sentry (Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk) and Fourth Follower of Telramund (Lohengrin). He returns later in the Season to sing Doctor Grenvil (La traviata).
The role of Captain is sung by tenor Simon Davies and the role of Amelia’s maidservant is sung by mezzo-soprano Dervla Ramsay, both members of the Royal Opera Chorus.
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Music Giuseppe Verdi
Libretto Francesco Maria Piave (with additions by Arrigo Boito)
Conductor Henrik Nánási
Director Elijah Moshinsky
Set designer Michael Yeargan
Costume designer Peter J. Hall
Lighting designer John Harrison
Fight director Philip d’Orléans
Simon Boccanegra Carlos Álvare
Jacopo Fiesco Ferruccio Ferlanetto
Amelia Grimaldi Hrachuhi Bassenz
Gabriele Adorno Francesco Meli
Paolo Albiani Mark Rucker*
Pietro Simon Shibambu
Captain Simon Davies
Amelia’s maidservant Dervla Ramsay
*Royal Opera debut
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Photo credit: Clive Barda