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Pirates of London

Royal Opera House
11/15/2018 -  & November 19, 24, 27, December 1*, 5, 10, 2018
Giuseppe Verdi: Simon Boccanegra
Mark Rucker (Paolo Albiani), Simon Shibambu (Pietro), Carlos Alvarez (Simon Boccanegra), Ferruccio Furlanetto (Jacopo Fiesco), Hrachuhi Bassenz (Amelia Grimaldi), Franceso Meli (Gabriele Adorno)
Royal Opera Chorus, William Spaulding (director), Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Henrik Nánási (conductor)
Elijah Moshinksy (production), Michael Yeargan (sets), Peter J. Hall (costumes), John Harrison (lights), Philip d’Orléans (fight director)

(© ROH/Clive Barda)

For those old enough to remember the momentous geopolitical changes of 1991, it may seem shocking that they happened 27 years ago. It has been just as long since the Royal Opera introduced Elijah Moshinsky’s production of Verdi’s most conspiratorial drama, the tale of a Genoese corsair who becomes doge on the on the same day his paramour dies giving birth to a daughter that the late mother’s father wants to raise. Fast-forward 25 years to Act I, and the daughter is rediscovered under a new name after a long disappearance, the corsair’s enemies abduct her as part of a plot against him, and he ends up poisoned but reconciled with his fiercest enemy, who also loves his daughter, all while defeating the less appealing conspirators. Moshinsky’s effort is waning in vibrancy, though the blues and purples suggesting Genoa’s seafaring empire are still rather beguiling. Nevertheless, the spartan Renaissance-style décor in Michael Yeargan’s sets lack much interest. The revival direction seems a bit facile as plot twists are turned, and the only really dynamic movement is in the sword play directed by the regally named Philip d’Orléans.

It is clearly time for a new production (the opera’s earlier version, of 1857, was introduced in a production here in 1997 but has mercifully been abandoned – after all, it lacks the exciting Council Chamber scene), but a solid cast saved the evening. Carlos Alvarez has steadily climbed the heights of the Verdi baritone, with a solid, martial quality that endowed the role with more gravitas than one is used to in repeated performances by the operatic superstar and not-quite baritone Plácido Domingo. This was a pirate to be reckoned with, on every level. Daughter Amelia fell to the young Armenian soprano Hrachuhi Bassenz. The voice is not quite the spinto soprano that the part needs, but she was lithe and pleasant in the more endearing scenes. Francesco Meli took the role of the amorous conspirator Gabriele Adorno, delivering a particularly impassioned late evening aria, “Sento avvampar nell’anima,” which mixes anger and regret in a delicious recapitulation of his love for Amelia and hatred of the doge, who of course turns out to be her father. Who could ever despair of the great basso Ferruccio Furlanetto? He is getting on in years, and there can be an occasional dryness in the voice, but he was a strong, paternal Fiesco and held his own in his exchanges with the younger Simon. Mark Rucker sang a stalwart Paolo, a doomed conspirator who steals the show when forced to curse himself.

Henrik Nánási, fresh from a triumphant Salome last season, led a bristling and lively reading of the score. William Spaulding’s choral direction was vivid and indefatigable.

Paul du Quenoy



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