Placidone's return to the opera stage last night in Milan after a two month recovery from colon cancer surgery as Verdi's Simon Boccanegra was undoubtedly heroic, admirable, and almost miraculous – especially in this annoying new age of divas and divos cancelling performances on a whim without giving any more explanation than “illness”. But this premiere of Boccanegra didn’t yield the dream reception (as some are erroneously spinning without even having been present) that the Spanish tenor could have wanted, nor a Boccanegra who Verdi himself could have imagined affecting the role. And it certainly didn’t rise to the unbridled success that greeted it in Berlin last fall for Domingo’s role premiere.
Last night at la Scala for the opening night of Verdi's Simon Boccanegra with Domingo in the title role, the unruly loggione made sure that the drama on the stage would be shadowed by the drama in the stands, made even more effective by a curse hurled at the stage by one of the angriest ticketholders.
Despite an overwhelmingly positive curtain call before the first (and only) intermission, thirty minutes of interval was to be the final moment of tranquility: As Barenboim returned to the podium, he was jeered with endless bouts of booing, all of which he glared down. First came calls of "vergogna", then came a clear shout of "vaff*****", but after an old man shouted "basta", enough, Barenboim finally faced the orchestra and continued the opera.
At the end of the opera and Domingo's heart wrenching death, the tenor (as baritone) was initially met with clusters of booing, although it was effectively eviscerated by the overwhelming cheers. And after the loggione's decisive gutting of Barenboim during the intermission, the upper galleries emptied quickly and the Domingo-enforces stayed around to cheer their hero in front of the curtain. A success surely for Domingo, Hartejos, and most of the cast, but marred by boos, especially directed towards the production team and Barenboim.
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In co production with Berlin's Staatsoper unter den Linden and Federico Tiezzi’s production, Domingo premiered the baritone role in November 2009 for Berlin, many in doubt of the tenor tackling the lower depths of the character. Verdi's Boccanegra, set in 14th-century Genoa, is a work full of musical intelligence, but a plot full of too many confusing conditions and double identities. Boccanegra is a former pirate who is pressed into the role of Doge, but always has that shadow of conflict at his shoulders, a flawed man who must balance the power between the aristocrats and the commoners.
Cameras filming from the plateau and best friend José Carreras front and center in the central Palco Reale (and Act III’s Capitano Antonello Ceron’s “Cittadini!” Palazzo Ducale call was cued from Palco Reale, literally at Carreras’ side), Plácido Domingo as Simon Boccanegra sang a sensitive, charismatic lead. As the tormented, haunted Doge, Placido plowed through the role with authority and melodic pronunciation -- even if his fiati, obviously, can't be that long anymore -- that costumes, wigs, or make-up can’t smudge. Slow to warm, it wasn’t until Act II until Domingo triumphed; shaking-off the slight tremble that temporarily marked his voice, dramatically and vocally blooming. Boccanegra didn't come off with dark, stormy baritone color, but rather a mustier timbre -- because it's not all about hitting the notes. PD did hit the notes, but sometimes else was lacking: when he dipped into the darker baritone colors, the effect was more of a growly bear. This wasn't a Verdi Boccanegra -- it was the Boccanegra of Domingo.
Gabriele Adorno, the hot tempered royalty and love interest of Amelia/Maria was sung b yFabio Sartori. Choosing a composed, mediated interpretation, it worked for him, winning lots of applause at the curtain call.
Amelia/Maria’s Anja Harteros, daughter of Boccanegra succeeded in the role, having already sung it prior in co-production tours. She had a confident, grounded, calm and secure onstage presence – playing her character as a mature woman rather than a teen. Act 1's introduced Harteros in aquamarine green silks, and a gorgeous "Come in quest’ora bruna" in a lyric, warm, intelligent voice with amazing control and sustainability. Working fabulously with Domingo, she was convincing and well paced.
Ferruccio Furlanetto’a Jacopo Fiesco, Maria/Amelia’s father was portrayed with great dignity and authority, but without the awesome power that Furlanetto normally brings. His "Ascolta. Se concedermi vorrai" was gorgeous, but not one of his performances to remember.
And what of Barenboim? His honeyed Boccanegra was too light, thoughtless, tensionless, and monochromatic for Verdi's masterpiece. A flaccid (yet sensitive and delicate) reading was the wrong interpretation for Boccanegra. Personally, O.C. liked Barenboim's light touch, but coupled with Domingo’s Boccanegra-lite, it didn’t leave the right impression.
Federico Tiezzi’s production was a modern-classic with sleek black ramparts and gilded Venetian edifices, evocative of San Marco (but wait, where are we?). For that, the audience rightfully booed it. We understood Tiezzi’s conventions (a huge mirror at the last scene to symbolize the fraction between reality and illusion was instead clunky and unwieldy), but it was an unmemorable production.
Domingo always brings the proper sensitivity, authority, and depth to his characters, and he didn’t fall short for the drama of Boccanegra. And although we’re against typecasting, Domingo’s Boccanegra is just too much of a novelty for us to embrace like we did with his Cyrano a few years back at Scala.
Herbert von Karaan wanted Domingo to sing Don Giovanni, and the idea still maksa lot of sense, with only minor tikering in the tessitura OC thinks Domingo can pull it off. It'd be memorable, much more than his Boccanegra, frankly. That said, at this point we’re happy to catch him on stage in whatever way we can. It's our privilege, really.
Welcome back to the stage, Placidone.