VERDI: Simon Boccanegra,Dramatic Commitment
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VERDI: Simon Boccanegra

spacer Frittoli; Secco, Hvorostovsky, Abdrazakov, Caria, Smoriginas; Kaunas City Symphony Orchestra and Kaunas State Choir, Orbelian. Texts and translations. Delos DE 3457

Dramatic Commitment

Constantine Orbelian leads Dmitri Hvorostovsky and a stellar cast in Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra.


Verdi’s 1881 reworking of Simon Boccanegra was the composer’s first outing with librettist Arrigo Boito, who would help fashion Otello (1887) and Falstaff (1893). It also provided the composer with his first opportunities to collaborate with tenor Francesco Tamagno and baritone Victor Maurel, who would star in those late masterpieces.

Based on a Spanish play by the same author as El Trovador, Piave’s original 1857 libretto centers on the historical Simone Boccanegra, a former pirate hostile to the aristocracy who was elected Doge of Genoa in 1339 and again in 1356 after a self-imposed exile. In the course of the opera, Boccanegra reconnects with his long-lost daughter, Maria, who has been brought up by the nobleman Jacopo Fiesco, living in exile under the name Andrea Grimaldi. Maria, who has been renamed Amelia Grimaldi, later marries her family’s former enemy Gabriele Adorno, after escaping a kidnapping plot that would have wed her to the evil-minded councilor Paolo, who later poisons Boccanegra. 

For the revision, Verdi realized that tinkering with this hopeless plot was futile: the libretto was a convoluted mess that even Arrigo Boito’s genius couldn’t fix. Verdi was determined, however, to add a grand and powerful scene to relieve what he called the work’s “excessive gloom,” and he told Boito about a letter from Petrarch to Boccanegra, calling for unity between Guelphs and Ghibellines. The poet had called the warring factions “sons of the same mother, Italy,” and Verdi ran with this idea. The result is a grand scene set in the council chamber of the Doge’s palace, which brings focus and drama to the political story and deepens the characterizations with increased vocal and theatrical demands.

Constantine Orbelian leads a stellar cast of Verdian interpreters in a new recording for Delos that captures the intimacy and grandeur of this difficult opera with superior sound. Reveling in the opera’s somber colors, Orbelian brings dramatic shape and fine detail to accompaniment figures and clarity to the orchestral textures, while eliciting eloquent ensemble singing and dramatic, committed performances.

When he sees his beloved Amelia enter the Doge’s apartments, Gabriele rushes to the wrong conclusion and works himself into a jealous fury, not realizing that Boccanegra is actually her father. In this reading, Gabriele’s aria “Sento avvampar” is never pressed, yet the churning accompaniment reveals his distress, which tenor Stefano Secco conveys with bite in his dark, hefty sound. There’s a touch of old-fashioned tenor sob at the climactic change of heart, “Pietà, gran Dio, del mio martiro!” and Secco brings handsome, heroic line and forthright emotion to the ensuing “Cielo pietoso.”

In the role of Amelia, Barbara Frittoli’s golden timbre conveys sweetness, and she bursts into the council chamber to tell of her abduction with highly charged vocal intensity that never turns metallic. She and Secco share an ear for linguistic detail, and their sounds blend beautifully in ensembles, whether the conventional love duet, “Vieni a mirar la cerula,” or Act II’s “Tu qui,” in which Amelia explains her compromising appearance in the palace. Frittoli luxuriates in Orbelian’s deliberate tempos, with gorgeous legato and vocal shading in her atmospheric opening aria, “Come in quest’ora bruna,” and the simple beauty of the narrative “Orfanella il tetto umile.” 

Delos’s Paolo is the excellent baritone Marco Caria, who shows real dramatic edge in the scene in which the villain drops poison into the Doge’s water pitcher. Only Ildar Abdrazakov, in the role of Fiesco, sounds underpowered, reaching unsuccessfully for low notes and working too hard at a darkened, heavy sound.

But it’s Boccanegra’s show, and Dmitri Hvorostovsky’s authority and dramatic maturity are out in full force. By now the vocal glamour is a given, and he tears into the role’s demands, from heavily declaimed commands to gently traced lines, with consummate artistry and technical security. His musical imagination is hard at work, with tenderness and waves of emotion enlivening the recognition scene, where he spins out the high-lying “Figlia! A tal nome io palpito” poignantly. Moving from formal reserve through cold calculation to growling indictment, Hvorostovsky’s characterization in the council-chamber scene is magnificent, rising to formidable violence when the doge insists that Paolo curse the abductor, when both know it was Paolo himself. In the well-paced final scene, Hvorostovsky invests Boccanegra’s dying lines with eloquence and delicate, covered tones. spacer 



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