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Reservoir Doge

Royal Albert Hall
08/27/1998 -  
Giuseppe Verdi : Simón Boccanegra
Paolo Gavanelli (Simon Boccanegra), Elena Prokina (Emilia), David Rendall (Adorno), Alastair Miles (Fiesco),  Peter Sidhom (Paolo), Daniel Borowski (Pietro)
Glyndebourne Chorus, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Mark Elder (conductor)

The annual visit of a Glyndebourne production to the Proms moved this year from the holiday Monday to the preceding Saturday. The stalls and boxes were sold out, but the arena and less expensive seats were not. This was surprising, since this is the one chance many people have to see these premium productions, at a reasonable cost and without schlepping down to Lewes. A number of promenaders did turn up in evening dress, with picnics discreetly hidden from the stewards, to try to reproduce the authentic Glyndebourne experience.

Simón Boccanegra is a less innovative opera than Falstaff, made up of familiar elements of romance and rhetorical topics. This performance was never going to top John Eliot Gardiner's dynamic take on the latter earlier in the season. But it was an intelligent, sympathetic, straightforward account and dealt effectively with the  emotional themes -- frustrated love, bereavement, trust and personal integrity -- that have an impact when the class-based political background (of either fourteenth-century Genoa or the Resurgimento) no longer means much.

The semi-staged production, directed by Robin Martin-Oliver from an original production by Peter Hall, used a platform behind the orchestra, with tables and chairs and a few other props, and had the singers in plain black. There was no obvious concept, simply a direct, coherent staging of the action -- which cannot be anything like as easy as it sounds. Paolo Gavanelli, who stood in for Giancarlo Pasquetto too late to make it into the programme, fitted in seamlessly, presumably after only a run-through of the blocking.

Gavanelli, stockily built, with a black beard with a white patch on the chin, was spot on as the solid, decent old swashbuckler. His singing was uneven, thin but still expressive in the high passages. This was perhaps not suprising when he must have had no more than twenty-four hours notice. He has a fine voice, but his theatrical skills seem limited, though fine for Boccanegra.

The rest of the cast was also nearly impeccable. Elena Prokina made a pure, bright sound as Emilia, and looked delightful once she got an ill-considered fringe off her face. David Rendall, also a last minute substitute, though already in the cast at Glyndebourne, got the better of his aging-juvenile image in a committed and moving O inferno, Gabriele's cry of anguish when he believes that his beloved Emilia has been unfaithful. Peter Sidhom looked shifty and sang powerfully as Paolo, and Daniel Borowski as his fellow conspirator Pietro has a rich, fruity bass voice.

For me, the outstanding performance of the evening was Alastair Miles as Fiesco. He's always rather opaque as an actor, but his voice is substantial, and his singing is accurate and authoritative. His Fiesco emerged as truly noble.

Mark Elder, who seemed to be working very hard indeed, and the London Philharmonic Orchestra delivered an energetic performance which supported the singers superbly.  The Glyndebourne Chorus, positioned about the hall in the last act, depicted both the riven mob and the grieving people effectively.

H.E. Elsom



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