In the title role, Nicole Chevalier sings with glowing focus—the pathos of ‘Komm, Hoffnung’ is heartstopping. Eric Cutler strikes a good balance between heft and lyricism as Florestan. Mélissa Petit’s Marzelline sounds bright and fresh opposite Benjamin Hulett’s ardent Jaquino. Christof Fischesser is an unusually young and essentially decent Rocco, warmly sung. Gábor Bretz is not the darkest-sounding Pizarro, but he never slips into caricature. Károly Szemerédy may not be the most secure Fernando. Yet overall this is an even cast fully attuned to the blazing humanity of Beethoven’s opera.
Simon Boccanegra, Verdi Marina Rebeka (Amelia), Marianne Sattmann (Maid), Charles Castronovo (Gabriele Adorno), Long Long (Captain), Luca Salsi (Simon Boccanegra), André Heyboer (Paolo Albiani), René Pape (Jacopo Fiesco), Antonio Di Matteo (Pietro), Chorus of the Vienna Staatsoper, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, c. Valery Gergiev, d. Andreas Kriegenburg, des. Harald B. Thor and Tanja Hofmann, video director Tiziano Mancini. Unitel Edition DVD 802608/Blu-ray 802704 (142 minutes) This staging of Simon Boccanegra was new at the Salzburg Festival in 2019. Since the opera’s initial appearance there in 1961, with Gianandrea Gavazzeni conducting Tito Gobbi, Leyla Gencer, Giorgio Tozzi and Giuseppe Zampieri, Verdi’s sublime work had been seen at the festival only in 2000, with Carlo Guelfi, Karita Mattila, Julian Konstantinov and Roberto Alagna, in Peter Stein’s staging conducted by Claudio Abbado. As it happens, the continuities in casting with 2019 extend to an Italian Doge (surely a plus for word-painting and an innate understanding of the historical issues—both 14th- and 19th-century—that the part embodies), a non-Italian Amelia, and one second-generation Italian speaker among the other male leads. But Gavazzeni’s high competence and Abbado’s inspirational brilliance in this dark score find only partial parallel in Valery Gergiev’s sonorous if sometimes ponderous or overloud reading of the score. The Vienna Philharmonic makes beautiful sounds and the chorus offers strong work. Happily, Gergiev delivers more dynamic nuance (at least once past the Prologue) and fewer pit-stage slip-ups than in either Bayreuth’s Tannhäuser the same summer or the recent Met Holländer.
Luca Salsi is more credible as the ardent lover and buccaneer of the Prologue than as the idealistic Doge worn down by a quartercentury of power politics. But he skilfully wields a genuine Verdi baritone, if hardly a supremely individual or memorable one; there’s not much tonal variety, but he makes solid, idiomatic sounds. René Pape imbues Fiesco with characterful dignity and is on good vocal form, though he’s somewhat short on Italianate line. The Fiesco-Adorno duet makes clear the difference between Pape in this respect and Charles Castronovo, making a further and highly convincing step into the spinto repertory, with no loss of his appealing timbre. Castronovo is a committed actor and a highly plausible romantic match for the beautiful Amelia/ Maria of Marina Rebeka (though her unflattering initial costume impedes her usual stage grace). Though a bit short of tonal liquidity in her testing role’s lower reaches, Rebeka offers security of line and pitch and commands Verdi’s soaring lines (including the exposed high Cs and trill). André Heyboer draws a vivid portrait of Paolo’s evil without remotely sounding like a future Simon; a darkly powerful bass, he might plausibly undertake Fiesco some day.
Opera, May 2021