Verdi: Simon Boccanegra, October, 2016

SIMON BOCCANEGRA

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Discover Verdi's Simon Boccanegra – the dramatic intensity of its story, and the astonishing beauty of its music.


 

San Diego OperaTalk! with Nick Reveles

Nicolas Reveles, host of San Diego OperaTalk! discusses Simon Boccanegra. He talks about the historical Simon Boccanegra, Verdi's life, and the creation and revision of the opera. He also introduces the music of the opera and some of his favourite recordings.


 

Prologue
Recitative and Aria: A te, l'estremo addio ... Il lacerato spirito

A highlight of the opera is this touching, dirge-like bass aria sung by Fiesco as he laments the death of his daughter Maria.

He begins with a recitative, A te l'estremo addio, in which he rages against Simon Boccanegra, the "vile seducer" who fathered Maria's child. This is followed by the aria, Il lacerato spirito, expressing Fiesco's despair and pleading with Maria, now in heaven, to pray for him.

A te l'estremo addio, palagio altero...
A final farewell to you, lofty palace, the cold tomb of my angel!
And I failed to protect you! Oh accursed man! O vile seducer.
And you, Virgin, did you allow him to rob her of her virginal crown?


Il lacerato spirito Del mesto genitore...
The wounded spirit of a despairing father
was preserved for the torment of infamy and sorrow.
Heaven in its mercy gave her a martyr's crown,
Risen to the bright glory of the angels,
Maria, pray for me.

Bulgarian bass Nicolai Ghiaurov sings the recitative and aria in the highly regarded 1978 La Scala production, conducted by Claudio Abbado. The aria, Il lacerato spirito, begins at 1:55.


 

Prologue
Duet: Se concedermi vorrai L'innocente sventurata

Just minutes after Fiesco mourns Maria's death, her lover Simon appears and, unaware of what has happened, tries to make peace with Fiesco. Fiesco retorts that peace between them will be impossible until one of them is dead. Simon challenges Fiesco to assassinate him then and there, but Fiesco is too honourable to do so.

Without letting on that Maria is dead, Fiesco promises to forgive Simon if he will let him have his little granddaughter.

Se concedermi vorrai L'innocente sventurata...
if you were to grant me the poor innocent girl
who was born of that sinful love,
I, who have not yet seen her,
swear to make her happy
and then you would have your pardon.

Boccanegra explains that he cannot do so, for the child has gone missing.

Del mar sul lido tra gente ostile...
That gentle creature grew up among strangers on the sea shore;

SImon had entrusted his daughter to the care of an old woman. One night he left his ship to visit the child, but found the woman had died.

Misera, trista, Tre giorni pianse...
The poor, sad girl wandered, weeping, for three days;
then she disappeared, and was never seen again.
I have since searched for her in vain.

Despite SImon's desperate pleading, Fiesco is adamant that there will not be peace between them unless Simon grants his wish. Fiesco then leaves, knowing that Simon will soon learn the terrible truth – that Maria is dead.

Bass Nicolai Ghiaurov is Fiesco and baritone Piero Cappuccilli is Simon in this scene from the 1978 La Scala production, conducted by Claudio Abbado.


 

Act 1
Aria: Come in quest'ora bruna

This lovely aria evokes the sparkle and shimmer of the moonlit sea as Amelia admires the beauty of the night. But she has not forgotten her past ... the simple home of her childhood and the dark night when the woman looking after her died. As dawn approaches, she is filled with joy, for her lover, Gabriele Adorno is on his way.

Come in quest'ora bruna...
How, in this hour of darkness, the stars and the sea are smiling! ...
It's as if they have joined, O moon on the wave of your light!
But what do the stars and the sea
bring to the mind of the wretched orphan –
That cruel, dark night when the good old woman
cried out as she died, 'May Heaven watch over you.'

O altero ostel, soggiorno Di stirpe ancor più altera...
O lofty abode, home of still more noble ancestors
you haven't made me forget my simple home!
But only in your austere splendor does love smile upon me
The sky brightens, but my lover's song is not yet heard!
As dawn wipes dew from the flowers
so does he wipe the tears from my eyes.

Kiri Te Kanawa is Amelia in this 1991 production by the Royal Opera Covent Garden, conducted by George Solti.


 

Act 1
Plebe, patrizi, popolo!

The Council Chamber scene is one of the most famous in the opera. Here all the characters, with their conflicting emotions and motives, converge in a remarkable ensemble, as the opera's powerful central theme of peace emerges.

In the Doge's palace, Boccanegra and councillors for the Patrician and Plebeian factions have been attending to the city's business. Simon has received a letter from the poet Petrarch, urging Genoa to make peace with Venice, for the two cities are part of the same fatherland, Italy. But the councillors have called for war.

They are interrupted by a riot: Gabriele Adorno is being pursued by a mob of Plebeians. He has killed Lorenzino, who, on the orders of an unnamed man, had kidnapped Amelia. Believing that Simon is behind the crime, Gabriele tries to stab him, but is prevented by Amelia, who then recounts her abduction and escape. Before she can identify Paolo as the villain, a new altercation begins as Patricians and Plebeians accuse one another of the crime.

Simon Boccanegra now intervenes with a passionate call for peace.

Plebe! Patrizi! Popolo...
Plebians! Patricians! People
Heirs only of the ferocious story of the hatred
between the Spinolas and the Dorians,
though the broad kingdom of the seas happily calls to you,
you break hearts in your brothers' homes.

Piango su voi, sul placido...
I weep over you, over the peaceful light of your hills where the olive branches flower in vain.
I weep over your hypocritical flower festival,

His cry for brotherhood culminates with a stirring, elegiac melody as he quotes from the last line of Petrarch's poem Italia mia (Canzone 128), in which the poet called for an end to the fighting that was tearing apart all of Italy.

E vo gridando: pace!
E vo gridando: amor!
and I want to cry: peace!
and I want to cry: love!

In the ensemble that follows, Amelia echoes Simon's plea for peace, while Gabriele rejoices that she is safe and that she loves him. Pietro and Paolo continue their plotting, and Fiesco rues the fact that his city is in the hands of a corsair .

Vladimir Chernov is Simon Boccanegra in this 1995 Metropolitan Opera production. Kiri Te Kanawa is Amelia, with Plácido Domingo as her lover Gabriele Adorno, Bruno Pola as Paolo, Robert Lloyd as Fiesco, and Hao Jiang Tian as Pietro. James Levine conducts the Metropolitan Orchestra and Chorus.


 

Act 3
Duet: Piango, perché mi parla

In the final act of the opera, the uprising led by Paolo has been put down and he has been condemned to death. As he is led to his execution, Paolo boasts to Fiesco that he has poisoned Simon. Fiesco is appalled for, even in his hatred, he would never have wished such a fate on Simon. Fiesco decides the hour has finally come to approach his old enemy, who has long believed him dead.

Fiesco makes himself known to Simon, who is already feeling the effects of the poison. Exclaiming that now they can be at peace, Simon reveals that Amelia is Fiesco's granddaughter.

At this, Fiesco begins weeping.

Piango, perché mi parla
I weep because the voice of Heaven speaks to me through you;
I feel a terrible reproach in your pity.

Simon embraces him and the two weep together. Fiesco sadly reveals that Simon has been poisoned. As Simon faces his death, finally reconciled with his old enemy, he prepares to bless Maria one last time.

Vien, ch'io ti stringa al petto, O padre di Maria;
Come, let me clasp you to my breast, O father of Maria;
Your pardon will be a balm to my soul.

[Fiesco] Ahimè! morte sovrasta
Alas! Death threatens ... a traitor prepared poison for you.

[Simon] I feel that everything speaks to me of eternity...

Boris Christoff is Fiesco, and Tito Gobbi is SImon in this audio recording made in 1957 for EMI. Gabriele Santini conducts the Orchestra del Teatro dell' Opera di Roma.


 

James Levine and Richard Dyer Discuss Simon Boccanegra

James Levine, Music Director of the Metropolitan Opera, and Richard Dyer, longtime music critic at the Boston Globe, talk about SImon Boccanegra in this interview from 2009.

Levine knows the work very well indeed and believes that in Verdi's final revised version, It is one of the great great masterpieces. It became something more than the sum of its parts – something really extraordinary ...

The opera covers three generations of people and 25 years of time, as Dyer notes, and Simon starts out as a real lock-up-your-daughters kind of guy ... the plot hinges on a child born out of wedlock.

James Levine:

This adventurer, this pirate ... then has to become the major voice for all the humanitarian ideals in his government ... that whole thing from lover and father and pirate to statesman and doge ... makes the panorama and the journey for his character extraordinary in all opera ...
I think there is no other opera ever written in which the climactic final confrontation – the final scene – is between a bass and a baritone, one of them 75 years old, the other 50 years old or so ... and they are finally reconciled after having been at terrible odds from the very beginning.


 

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