Verdi: Simon Boccanegra, October, 2016

SIMON BOCCANEGRA

Music by Giuseppe Verdi
Libretto by Francesco Maria Piave and Arrigo Boito

Based on the play Simón Bocanegra by Antonio García Gutiérrez

October 13, 15, 21, 2016, at 8 pm
Wednesday, October 19, at 7 pm
Sunday, October 23, at 2:30 pm

The Royal Theatre, 805 Broughton St.

In Italian with English surtitles
Approximate running time: 155 minutes, including one intermission
Pre-performance talk 1 hour before curtain


 

Above: Scenes from Pacific Opera Victoria's production of Simon Boccanegra, with Todd Thomas, Phillip Ens, Lara Ciekiewicz, Brett Polegato. Jason Slayden, Neil Craighead, Joseph Bulman. Timothy Vernon conducts the Victoria Symphony; Giuseppe Pietraroia directs the Pacific Opera Chorus. With Director Glynis Leyshon, Designer Camellia Koo, Lighting Designer Kevin Lamotte, Projection Designer Jamie Nesbitt, and Choreographer/Fight Director Jacques Lemay.
Shine-ola Communications.


 

Media
Overview
Cast and Creative Team
Synopsis
Historical Characters

Resources and Links
Video / Musical Selections
Keynotes Online Newsletter
Keynotes Newsletter (PDF)
Study Guide (PDF)


 

Media

  • A Splendid Simon Boccanegra from Pacific Opera Victoria
    Harvey De Roo of Vancouver Classical Music reviews Simon Boccanegra.

    Pacific Opera Victoria's production of this compelling opera was absolutely splendid. Under the baton of Maestro Vernon the orchestra played with verve and finesse. Every voice was strong and the acting uniformly excellent ... Glynis Leyshon's direction was telling, facilitating the action, her blocking making sense of what was being conveyed by the music and the characters...
    We must be grateful to Pacific Opera for taking on late Verdi, as it has done with Falstaff, Otello, and now Simon Boccanegra... With its interesting characters, beautiful music, and message of peace, love, and conciliation rather than the violent enactment of vengeance, it is very much an opera for today.
    Read more.

  • With gifted cast, seldom-staged Simon Boccanegra is surprisingly moving
    Adrian Chamberlain of the Times Colonist reviews Simon Boccanegra.

    Mention Verdi and most of us think of the big hits: Rigoletto, Il Trovatore and La Traviata. His Simon Boccanegra is what's known in pop music as a "deep cut." It's staged much less often ...
    Pacific Opera Victoria's new production ... is entertaining and cleverly staged...
    Dispatched by the Victoria Symphony with vivacity and subtlety under Timothy Vernon's baton, Verdi's music is gorgeous ... Glynis Leyshon's direction is sure-footed and grasps the essentials. And ... there were consistently good performances from a talented cast able to act as well as sing.
    Read more.

  • Baritone Todd Thomas tackles opera's Hamlet-type role
    Adrian Chamberlain of the Times Colonist talks with Director Glynis Leyshon and with Baritone Todd Thomas about his debut in the demanding title role of Simon Boccanegra.

    Specializing in Verdi's operas is difficult at the best of times. One critic describes those who do as "the elite athletes of opera." Glynis Leyshon, who is stage-directing Simon Boccanegra, said the role of Simon is to opera what the Olympian part of Hamlet is for actors.
    Read more.

  • Victoria News Interview with Phillip Ens
    Pamela Roth of the Victoria News talks with Canadian bass Phillip Ens, who plays the role of Fiesco in Simon Boccanegra.

    [Fiesco is] the most senior character in this opera. He's a man of nobility and honour and has a deep love for his clan, said Ens. Verdi puts it into the music so well that the best way I think to get the character is to honour the music and to love it and sing it well.
    Read more.


 

Introduction

After he is elected Doge of Genoa, the former pirate Simon Boccanegra must grapple with the swirling chaos of 14th century Italian politics and the implacable hatred of the man whose daughter he once seduced. Simon learns quickly that political life is driven by backroom deals, conspiracy, vengeance, and murder.

When his own long-lost daughter re-enters his life, everything changes. Simon struggles to protect her while facing down rebellion and intrigue.

An eloquent call for magnanimity and reconciliation, Simon Boccanegra shows Verdi at his most humane: the characters are vivid, flawed; the music is haunting, full of grace and grandeur.

Simon Boccanegra is extraordinary too for representing the evolution of Verdi's musical style, for a quarter century separates the original version of the opera and the revision by Verdi and Boito.


 

Cast and Creative Team

WIth the Victoria Symphony and the Pacific Opera Chorus


 

Synopsis for the POV Production

The story, set in Genoa around 1363, opens with Simon Boccanegra – old and sick – writing the story of his life at his private desk. He begins the story 25 years earlier, when he first came to power in the plague-ridden city of Genoa ...

On a deserted street outside the gloomy Fiesco Palazzo, Paolo, the leader of the People's Party (Plebeians), is plotting with his friend Pietro to secure the election of the former pirate Simon Boccanegra as first Doge of Genoa. Promised gold and honour, Pietro agrees and leaves to gather popular support for Boccanegra.

Paolo now must convince Simon to stand for office. Simon strongly rejects the idea, but is persuaded when Paolo points out that as Doge, he might find favour with the widower Fiesco and be allowed to marry Fiesco's daughter Maria. Simon and Maria had earlier run away together and had an illegitimate daughter, only to be separated by an outraged Fiesco, who then looked Maria up in his palace.

Still desperate to win Maria, Simon agrees to stand for election.

As Simon departs, Pietro and the Plebeian men return, arguing about who should be their candidate. Paolo persuades them that Simon is the best candidate and will be a strong match for the Patrician leader Fiesco. Paolo then stirs fear and loathing in the people against the hated Patrician by noting how Fiesco has kept his own daughter imprisoned in the strangely dark and lifeless palazzo.

As they depart, Fiesco emerges onto the street, overcome with grief for his daughter. He rages against Boccanegra, the vile seducer of Maria, as his household mourn her passing with a heartfelt religious procession.

Unaware that Maria has died, Simon returns to make peace with Fiesco, who retorts that reconciliation will be impossible until one of them is dead – or until Simon lets him have his little granddaughter. Simon tells him that is impossible: on the death of her nurse, the girl had wandered off and then disappeared.

Despite Simon's pleading, Fiesco is adamant that there will not be peace between them, and cruelly leaves Simon to discover that his beloved has just died. Simon enters the palace and finds Maria's body just as the crowd acclaims him as Genoa's new Doge.

Act I, Scene 1. Grimaldi Palazzo near Genoa

Simon's story then moves forward 25 years. He has exiled many enemies, including Fiesco, who has taken on the identity of the noble Andrea Grimaldi and who continues to plot secretly against Simon with a group of nobles, including Gabriele Adorno, who is in love with his daughter Amelia Grimaldi.

As dawn breaks, we see Amelia waiting for her lover, Gabriele. Despite the beauty of her surroundings, Amelia is deeply troubled by memories of her humble childhood and her adoption into the Grimaldi family by Andrea Grimaldi.

She hears Gabriele's voice, but her joy at seeing him is tempered by fear for his safety, for she knows Gabriele, Grimaldi, and Lorenzino are plotting against the Doge.

Word arrives that the Doge is coming to visit Amelia. Fearing that Boccanegra will force her to marry Paolo, she urges Gabriele to ask Grimaldi for her hand in marriage. Gabriele approaches Andrea, who warns him that Amelia is not a daughter of the noble Grimaldi family, but a foundling whom the Grimaldis had adopted; with their sons in exile and their own daughter dead, they sought an heir to keep their fortune out of the clutches of the Doge. Gabriele is undeterred by Amelia's humble origins, and Andrea agrees to the marriage.

Simon arrives and presents Amelia with a pardon for her exiled brothers. She admits that she loves someone other than the "vile" Paolo, then, confessing that she is not a Grimaldi, tells Simon of the dyingl woman who gave her a portrait of her mother. Simon produces an identical picture and realizes that Amelia is his long-lost daughter, whom he had named Maria. They embrace joyfully, and Amelia happily departs.

Boccanegra then bluntly rejects Paolo's wishes and declares he will not be allowed to marry Amelia. Enraged by this shocking reversal, Paolo turns against Simon and plots with Pietro to abduct Amelia and hide her in the home of Lorenzino. Pietro fears Lorenzino will not allow this, but Paolo instructs him to blackmail Lorenzino with the knowledge of his treasonous plotting.

Act I, Scene 2. The Senate Chamber of Genoa

The political situation in the city is extremely tense. The Plebeians and the Patricians are constantly warring, and the people are ready to revolt at any moment. Simon, not knowing of his daughter's abduction, is determined to stop the internal fighting that threatens to destroy Genoa from within and to induce the senate to make peace with enemies like Venice who threaten from without.

Simon reads a powerful letter from the poet Petrarch, urging peace, but Paolo, now a bitter enemy, ridicules this idea, and both the Patrician and Plebeian senators reject peace. Simon likens their behaviour to Cain raising his club against Abel, and reminds them that Venice and Genoa are part of one fatherland.

Suddenly, the sound of a riot is heard. Paolo, suspecting that his kidnapping plot has failed, tries to slip away. Simon orders that no one leave, and has the doors opened. The mob burst in, holding Fiesco and Gabriele, who declares that he has killed Amelia's kidnapper, Lorenzino. Before dying, Lorenzino revealed that a powerful man was behind the crime. Convinced that the culprit is Simon, Gabriele tries to stab him. Amelia rushes in, separates them, 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 intervenes with a passionate call for peace, which calms the crowd. He orders Adorno arrested for the night, but lets him keep his sword. Knowing that Paolo is behind the crime, Boccanegra calls down a curse upon the kidnapper and forces the terrified Paolo to repeat the curse. As everyone joins in the curse, Paolo flees.

Act II. The Doge's Palace

Intending to assassinate the Doge, Paolo pours poison into a cup and, to make doubly sure, has Adorno and Fiesco brought to him. He tries to coerce Fiesco into stabbing Boccanegra in his sleep, but Fiesco refuses to act so dishonourably. Paolo then tells Gabriele that Amelia is Simon's mistress.

Furious that Boccanegra, the man who had executed his father, is now his rival in love, Gabriele accuses Amelia of infidelity. Without divulging the secret of Simon's identity, she admits insists she is faithful to Gabriele.

As Simon enters, Gabriele hides. When Amelia reveals the name of her lover, Simon is shocked, for he knows that Gabriele is conspiring against him. Amelia begs him to either let them marry or to execute them both. Simon agrees to consider mercy, then sends Amelia away. He drinks from the poisoned cup, commenting on its bitter taste, then falls asleep.

Gabriele emerges and is about to stab Simon when Amelia reappears and stops him. Simon awakes and accuses Gabriele of robbing him of his greatest treasure, his daughter. Realizing that Simon is Amelia's father, Gabriele begs forgiveness and promises to work for peace or to fight by Simon's side.

Act III. The Senate Chamber

The uprising has been defeated, and Paolo is 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.

Already feeling the effects of the poison, Simon remembers the glory of his seafaring days. Fiesco, whom Simon had thought long dead, approaches. Exclaiming that now they can be at peace, Simon reveals that Amelia is Fiesco's granddaughter. Fiesco weeps as the two finally reconcile.

His story now complete, Simon blesses Gabriele and Amelia and names Gabriele as his successor.


 

Historical Characters in the Opera

Simon Boccanegra is a fascinating mix of historic fact and sensational fiction.

The real Simone Boccanegra was elected the first doge of Genoa in 1339 and died, poisoned, in 1363. Although Amelia is fictional, the Fiesco (Fieschi) and Grimaldi families dominated power politics in medieval Genoa.

Gabriele Adorno is an historic character, who did indeed succeed Simon Boccanegra as Doge after his death; Adorno was deposed in a tax revolt seven years later.

The historical Simone was not a corsair, but Verdi follows Gutierrez' example in conflating Simone the Doge with his brother Egidio, who was the pirate in the family.

During the early days of the Hundred Years War, Egidio (Gil) Boccanegra commanded Genoese mercenaries in a series of seafaring attacks on England, as part of a Franco-Spanish-Genoese fleet in the service of Philip VI of France. A celebrated admiral (or pirate, depending on your perspective), he was known as Barbenoire or Blackbeard – predating by nearly 400 years the famous English pirate who terrorized the West Indies in the 18th Century.

Simone Boccanegra was forced to resign as Doge in 1344 and go into exile, before resuming his post in 1356. He was therefore temporarily out of power in 1352 when the poet Petrarch wrote to the Doge and Council of Genoa urging them to make peace with Venice – an event recalled in one of the opera's most riveting scenes, the Council Chamber scene at the end of Act I.

This scene was not in the original 1857 version of the opera. But in 1880, as he was beginning to work with Arrigo Boito on a revision of the opera, Verdi wrote to his publisher Ricordi:

I recall two magnificent letters of Petrarch, one to the Doge Boccanegra, the other to the Doge of Venice, warning them not to start a fratricidal war, and reminding them that both were sons of the same mother, Italy ... How wonderful, the feeling for an Italian fatherland in those days!

Petrarch wrote letters in 1351 (to Venice) and 1352 (to Genoa) urging peace between the two warring cities (although at the time of the second letter, Simon Boccanegra was not the Doge of Genoa). These letters clearly spoke to Verdi's own love of Italy,

Out of this came the Council Chamber scene, and Boccanegra's heartfelt cry for peace.

Even though by the time Simon Boccanegra was revised, Italian unity had essentially been achieved, this scene still resonates.

Maureen Woodall


 

Resources

Reading List from the Greater Victoria Public Library

Librarians from the Greater Victoria Public Library have offered to create book/music lists that tie in to POV performances. Thanks to Jennifer Rowan, Coordinator, Public Services, and to Devon Tatton, Public Services Librarian, Arts, Culture, and Music Portfolio for providing the following list for SImon Boccanegra. These resources will enrich your understanding of Verdi and his opera and invite exploration of the historic milieu of 14th century Italy, along with other riveting stories of political intrigue.
To borrow these materials, visit your library branch or go online at http://gvpl.ca

CD
  • Simon Boccanegra – Audio recording of the production in Italian with English, French and German translations in the accompanying booklet.
DVD
  • House of Cards – The original BBC Trilogy: modern political machinations at their finest.
  • The Life of Verdi – Excellent miniseries exploring the life of Verdi, it was filmed in locations across Europe and includes rare recordings of some of the most famous operatic talent of the last century. This lavish production required the work of 100 actors, 18,000 extras, and 4,000 costumes!
  • Simon Boccanegra – This recording was originally broadcast on the BBC, includes English subtitles.
Downloadable Audiobook
  • Giuseppe Verdi – Downloadable and stream-able audiobook described as a "portrait-in-sound," and narrated by a variety of well know actors and artists, with musical interludes.
Non-Fiction Fiction
  • The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco – A murder mystery that takes place in a 14th Century Italian monastery; it became a runaway hit when first published and remains popular today.
  • Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel – More twisted and deadly political intrigue set in England during the same time period as Simon Boccanegra.

Verdi and the Opera, Simon Boccanegra

  • Wikipedia Article on the opera

  • Libretto of the Opera (PDF) in Italian and English.
    Note that in this Delos CD booklet for the opera, pages 17 and 19 are identical, and the real page 17 is missing. In the missing scene Paolo states his ambition to gain power over the patricians (Aborriti patrizi / Detested patricians). Simon arrives and Paolo asks if he'd like to be chosen the new leader. Simon responds, Are you crazy?. Paolo mentions Maria, and when Simon begs for news of the innocent victim of his love, Paolo tells him she's a prisoner in the Fiesco palace.

    The missing scene can be found online in this Italian libretto.

  • Scores including vocal scores of both the 1857 and 1881 versions

Historical Background of the Opera

  • Wikipedia Article on the historic SImone Boccanegra, who was elected first Doge of Genoa in 1339.

  • Wikipedia Article on the historic Gabriele Adorno, who succeeded the real Simone Boccanegra as Doge on his death in 1363

  • Francesco Petrarch: Website devoted to the scholar and poet Francesco Petrarca (commonly known as Petrarch), who in November, 1352, wrote to the Doge and Council of Genoa urging them to make peace with Venice. He had also written previously to the Doge of Venice on the same subject.

    Petrarch's letter is mentioned in the climactic Council Chamber Scene of Simon Boccanegra. (Truth be told, some of Petrarch's argument was that by making peace, Venice and Genoa could turn their joint efforts toward battling foreign powers, perhaps by mounting a crusade to the Holy Land:

    if ... inspired by heaven, you would begin to remember that you are Italians, that you were and could be friends ... then you will turn from this Italian and civil war to foreign ones; ... present a spectacle to the world and a most joyful thing to posterity in soon undertaking a pious expedition to liberate the Holy Land, and in happily demonstrating your loyalty to Jesus Christ.
    (Epistolae familiares / Familar Letters, Book XIV, Letter 5)

    A writer, poet, and traveller, Petrarch (1304 to 1374) is perhaps most famous for his unrequited love for a woman named Laura (the blonde Avignonaise that Paolo mentions in the opera). Petrarch wrote many poems to Laura (he popularized what is known to this day as the Petrarchan Sonnet).

    Petrarch has also been called the first tourist, because he travelled for the pleasure of it. During his travels, Petrarch amassed a collection of many forgotten classical Greek and Roman texts, including works by Plato, Cicero, and Homer, and he greatly admired the ancient writers. In fact he coined the term "Dark Ages" to describe what he perceived as a decline in quality of literature in the period between the fall of Rome and the Renaissance, roughly the 6th to 14th centuries.

    On this website you can learn about Petrarch's life, about who Laura may have been, and you can find out about the link between Petrarch and Tarot cards.

    You can also read the 366 poems called the Canzoniere, most of them love poems to Laura, in both the original Italian and in English translation.

    Canzoniere 128, Italia Mia / My Italy was addressed to Italian nobles who were hiring German mercenaries for their internecine wars. The final line of this poem is quoted in Simon Boccanegra's great call for peace in the Council Chamber scene of the opera: I'vo gridando: Pace, pace, pace. / I go calling out: Peace, peace, peace.

    The website, created by Peter Sadlon, is sprinkled with wonderful quotes from Petrarch's writing, including this charming description of himself from his Letter to Posterity, written ca 1371 or 1372:

    It is possible that some word of me may have come to you, though even this is doubtful, since an insignificant and obscure name will scarcely penetrate far in either time or space ...
    In my prime I was blessed with a quick and active body, although not exceptionally strong; and while I do not lay claim to remarkable personal beauty, I was comely enough in my best days. I was possessed of a clear complexion, between light and dark, lively eyes, and for long years a keen vision, which, however, deserted me, contrary to my hopes, after I reached my sixtieth birthday, and forced me, to my great annoyance, to resort to glasses. Although I had previously enjoyed perfect health, old age brought with it the usual array of discomforts.


 

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