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Kiri Te Kanawa, Alexandru Agache, Michael Sylvesyer, and Roberto Scandiuzzi star in this Covent Garden production of the Verdi opera conducted by Sir Georg Solti.
Verdi's tale of the eponymous medieval Doge of Genoa marries the political and the intimate to dramatic effect, both elements given their full due in this well-sung production led by Sir Georg Solti. Soprano Kiri Te Kanawa stars as Maria/Amelia, the lost daughter of Simon Boccanegra being raised by her grandfather, his bitter political foe. She's in fine voice and acts well, a truly convincing figure, her lovely first aria Come in quest'ora bruna a thing of beauty, and striking sparks in the Council scene and her duets with her lover and her father. Alexandru Agache takes the title role; he's a lyric baritone who's especially convincing in the more intimate moments, as well as a commanding figure whose message of peace and forgiveness ultimately wins over his rebellious patrician opponents. As Gabriele Adorno, tenor Michael Sylvester sings with passion and ringing high notes, while baritone Alan Opie gives as good a portrayal as one might hope for as the villainous Paulo, Simon's false friend who ultimately poisons him. Roberto Scandiuzzi's sonorous bass is an apt vehicle for portraying Simon's chief enemy, Fiesco, and his singing of the great aria Il lacerato spirito is a highlight of the set. Solti's conducting is well-paced, vibrant in the action scenes, warm without excessive lingering in the touching scenes between father and daughter.
The 1991 production lacks the opulence of the Metropolitan Opera's 1995 production, a more traditional version also featuring Te Kanawa, whose period sets and costumes are stunning, and which offers singing and acting on par with Covent Garden's. But in its own leaner way, the Royal Opera offers major competition to the MET. Elijah Moshinsky's stage production creates the world of medieval Genoa with a few strokes--a black and white backdrop suggesting a sail (Simon was a famous corsair) with graffiti on the black wall, the white standing in for Fiesco's palace. The Council Chamber scene features a richly robed Doge presiding over the meeting, while the row of columns on the left serve as a portico to the Doge's palace and, in various guises, complement the other scenes of the opera. The video direction by Brian Large is efficient, directing our attention to the narrative and if a few more shots of the full stage would have been welcome in some scenes, that's not a hindrance. Closeups are neatly managed without forcing us into the throats of the singers and we're never subjected to extraneous material that might prove distracting. --Dan Davis