After a day of real-life politics in and around Westminster there was a certain irony to spending an evening at the Royal Opera House for a work largely concerned with politics beset by factionalism, ruthless ambition, old enmities, financial corruption and their impact on personal lives and relationships. However, there were rewards! Elijah Moshinsky’s 1991 staging of Simon Boccanegra, seen in many revivals over its twenty-seven years, wears its age lightly. Michael Yeargan’s spacious designs look well, and they do leave plenty of space and scope for claustrophobic crowd scenes and the more intimate sections of Verdi’s complex creation.
On this occasion Moshinsky was back in the director’s chair and drew some fine performances from his principals whilst Henrik Nánási shows his credentials as a Verdian in some style. The very distinct tinta of Verdi’s orchestration with its reliance on sombre soulful woodwinds and shimmering shadowy, often undulating strings as well as a wide dynamic range is captured to perfection. Pacing is well-judged and the larger-scale set-pieces such as the central section of the council chamber scene have their due weight.
The voices are given their chances to contribute to this and to build their dramatic interpretations. At the centre of the cast is Carlos Álvarez’s Simon, one of the best performances he has given for the company from both a vocal and dramatic perspective. The voice has a rich central core to it with power and a sense of authority in reserve, but his restraint in terms of volume and his telling use of the text makes for a very sympathetic and complex portrayal. He also has a wonderful sense of vocal line, spinning out long-breathed phrases effortlessly. Counter to this is the implacable Fiesco of Ferruccio Furlanetto. With his inky-black and cavernously resonant bass he remains a compelling interpreter of the role even if the focus of the voice has loosened somewhat and his once-legendary control of dynamics isn’t so tight when it comes to singing very quietly.
Francesco Meli’s trumpet-like tenor sounds well for the volatile Gabriele Adorno, perhaps a tad relentlessly at times, but dramatically he catches the idealism and innate honour of the man. Hrachuhi Bassenz’s first appearance as Amelia didn’t quite come together on this first-night (dedicated to the memory of Montserrat Caballé), sounding a little choppy and with words indistinct despite the ravishing vocal tone, especially in the middle of the voice. However, from then her account grows in stature and appeal culminating in some particularly fine and impassioned singing, but she could dominate her big moment in the council scene more.
The other intriguers are well-cast with Mark Rucker making an auspicious debut as Paolo, playing the role as a more cunning than simply thuggish. Mention should be made of Simon Davies’s short moment in the spotlight as the Captain – lovely singing and a demonstration of the talent that exists in the Chorus, and this group was on sterling form; indeed, some of the detail of the off-stage choral writing was clearer than ever.