About us / Contact

The Classical Music Network


Europe : Paris, Londn, Zurich, Geneva, Strasbourg, Bruxelles, Gent
America : New York, San Francisco, Montreal                       WORLD

Your email :



Boccanegra’s Butchershop

Teatro Regio
09/25/2022 -  & September 29, October 6, 14, 2022
Giuseppe Verdi : Simon Boccanegra
Vladimir Stoyanov (Simon Boccanegra), Roberta Mantegna (Amelia Grimaldi), Riccardo Zanellato (Jacopo Fiesco), Piero Pretti (Gabriele Adorno), Devid Cecconi (Paolo Albiani), Adriano Gramigni (Pietro), Chiara Guerra (A handmaid of Amelia)
Coro del Teatro Regio di Parma, Martino Faggiani (chorus master), Filarmonia Arturo Toscanini, Riccardo Frizza (conductor)
Valentina Carrasco (stage director), Martina Segna (sets), Mauro Tinti (costumes), Ludovico Gobbi (lights)

(© Roberto Ricci)

This, the third opera presented at this year’s Parma Verdi Festival, was undoubtedly the finest, at least musically speaking. It is not often that one gets to experience the original 1857 version of Simon Boccanegra. Though not as strong as the 1881 final version which Arrigo Boito helped reconstruct with Verdi, it is nonetheless of major interest to hear the source of what is (according to many) one of the master’s best operas.

Even in its 1857 somewhat cumbersome original form, it’s an ingenious work that combines political intrigue with paternal and romantic love. The pirate Boccanegra becomes the plebeian choice for the position of Doge of the Genovese republic, in the hope that this political consecration will make him worthy of Maria, daughter of the patrician Giacopo Fiesco. Disapproving of his daughter’s affair with Simon Boccanegra, Fiesco sequesters Maria, who soon dies of a broken heart.

Fiesco blames Boccanegra for his daughter’s death, with revenge becoming his raison d’être. Twenty five years later, Amelia, daughter of Boccanegra and Maria, long thought lost or dead, is revealed to be the adoptive child of the noble Grimaldis. If this weren’t enough, she is also in love with patrician Gabriele Adorno. Yes, the plot is complicated, but it successfully combines these various passions.

Musically, the 1857 version of Simon Boccanegra has some of the early Verdi “Umpapa” rhythms. Son of a rural bandmaster, Verdi kept this bad habit in all his early works, and it’s also found in his middle period. Though dramatically moving, it is disconcerting that the intense Act III Boccanegra-Fiesco duet, “Come un fantasma, Fiesco t’appar,” is set to a tempo di Valzer. Masterfully, conductor Riccardo Frizza was able to hold the reigns of the orchestra to reduce these unpleasant “banda” sounds in the score.

This production was an uncontested musical triumph. The singers, the orchestra and the chorus were all superlative. While Bulgarian singer Vladimir Stoyanov doesn’t possess the most beautiful Verdian baritone, he is a masterful interpreter, able to express the required range of emotions, and this role is replete with acting, and less so, beautiful notes. Stoyanov certainly conveys paternal love in the Act I recognition scene with Amelia, “M’abbraccia, o figlia mia”, where she recognizes the portrait of her mother. He’s also extremely effective in the Act III aria, “Oh rifrigerio!...la marina brezza,” in the entire final scene.

Roberta Mantegna is an ideal Amelia, virginal but not fragile. In the Act I aria, “Come in quest’ora bruna” and duet with Gabriele Adorno “Ti veggo alfin...Perché si tardi giungi”, she embodies love and hope. Piero Pretti is a virile but refined Gabriele Adorno. In his Act II aria, “Sento avvampar nell’anima”, he expresses his jealousy vehemently, without lapsing into parody. His lyric tenor is exactly the right voice for this role, as it conveys his youth and ardour better than a heavier voice would have.

Bass Riccardo Zanellato is a noble Jacopo Fiesco. Though vindictive due to the death of his daughter, his aristocratic comportment and elegance never make him seem a villain. His “Il lacerato spirito,” from the Prologue, worked marvellously due to his ability to convey the utter pain and devastation of his loss without sinking into histrionics.

However, Valentina Carrasco’s staging was quite controversial. Based on the premise that in earlier times, butchers and slaughterhouses in coastal cities were located near the port, Boccanegra is no longer a pirate but is transported into a new incarnation, that of owner of a mega meat‑processing enterprise. At the opening of Act II, we were subjected to the spectacle of a large number of hanging carcasses. Supposedly, this is a metaphor on the violence of power. Never have I heard such a collective public outcry in a theatre; loud booing and shouts of “Vergogna” (shame) and “Verdi non era macellaio” (Verdi was not a butcher). This display of anger continued for a while, and I cannot say that I disapproved. If stage director Carrasco was seeking un succès de scandale, she definitely got it. However, if she was seeking an artistic success, she certainly did not, nor was it deserved.

Intuitively, one would think that an opera set in fourteenth century Genova would inspire visions of the Mediterranean and its rocky Ligurian coastline. Other than alluding to the violence of power, little was gained by the unsightly carcasses and the slaughterhouse setting. Fiesco’s palace was transformed into a corrugated aluminum container. Even in the transposed chronological setting of the 1930s in the Prologue and the 1950s in the rest of the opera, why would a modern‑day patrician family live in a container? In Act I, young Amelia is not a noblewoman, but the manager of a flower shop or nursery. This defies the logic that the power struggle between Fiesco and Boccanegra is one of plebeians and patricians. If the conflict is between two factions of a louche underworld, much of the power of the work is undermined.

In the final scene, when Boccanegra has been poisoned by the vindictive Paolo Albiano, we see a field of wheat that grows as the Doge gets closer to death. I assume the aim was to symbolize hope, invested in the upcoming rule of Gabriele Adorno, designated by Boccanegra to succeed him. A chorus of angels/slaughterhouse workers appeared carrying palm leaves (Palm Sunday), and a lamb (Agnus Dei) symbolized the death of Christ.

Other “innovative” ideas included Fiesco holding a doll, symbolizing his dead daughter, for the moving “Il lacerato spirito”. Slaughterhouse workers dressed in white (representing angels) take the doll away from him, to indicate her passing.

The only successful “modernization” was the feast in Act II, a faithful portrayal of workers having a kermesse reminiscent of Vittorio de Sica, Roberto Rossellini and Cesare Zavattini’s Neorealist wave of Italian cinema in the 1940s and 1950s. The excellent chorus and extras conveyed the joy of ordinary folk, seen dancing, eating, and drinking in a tragic way that almost moved one to tears, so blatant was their misery. Part of the success of the scene was owed to the imaginative choreography and the authenticity of Mario Tinti’s no frills costumes.

I hope no video release of this visually hideous production ever eventuates, but I do hope that a sound recording has been made to preserve this musical triumph for posterity.

Ossama el Naggar



Copyright ©ConcertoNet.com