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Chilling and Thrilling Simon Boccanegra

Lyric Opera
10/15/2012 -  & October 15, 20, 24*, 31, November 3, 6, 9, 2012
Giuseppe Verdi: Simon Boccanegra
Quinn Kelsey (Paolo Albiani), Evan Boyer (Pietro), Thomas Hampson (Simon Boccanegra), Ferruccio Furlanetto (Jacopo Fiesco), Krassimira Stoyanova (Amelia Grimaldi), Frank Lopardo (Gabriele Adorno), J'nai Bridges (Amelia's Maidservant), Bernard Holcomb (Captain of the Crossbowmen)
The Lyric Opera Orchestra and Chorus, Martin Wright (Chorus Master), Sir Andrew Davis (Conductor)
Elijah Moshinsky (Director), Michael Yeargan (Set Designer), Peter J. Hall (Costume Designer), Duane Schuler (Lighting Designer)

T. Hampson (© Dan Rest/Courtesy of Lyric Opera)

A magisterial production of Simon Boccanegra is mounted by the Lyric Opera of Chicago under the direction of Elijah Moshinsky. Tall columns designed by Michael Yeargan for this joint production with Covent Garden form archways through which the action proceeds. While Yeargan sometimes clutters the stage, he is back to his theatrical origins, where less is more and suggestion is all. The concept works wonderfully as the richness of the vocal score is on full display.

The action takes place at the end of the Middle Ages, the time of the Hundred Years War, the Black Death and Chaucer. Reason has not yet challenged violence. Oddly it is the soul of a Pirate which comes closest to the emerging Renaissance mindset.

A slightly raked floor of large marble squares alternating black and white serve as the setting for a dark ascension of the Pirate Boccanegra to Doge of Genoa, the back story told in the Prologue. Quinn Kelsey, understandably a rising star baritone, is doge-maker. From his first hushed aria to his curse in the council chamber and march to the gallows he is magnificent.

Moshinsky directs, bringing forward the clashing cultures, tribal wars and their impact on individual lives. That Boccanegra learned from his experiences on the high seas is touchingly apparent in his conciliatory world view in which dire conflicts can be resolved win-win. Of course he makes a big mistake in judgment at the end, when he is thirsty. Moshinsky says that big ideas flourish when they are brought together by a family of colleagues. "The best stage direction is direction you can't see." Certainly you feel it in his Boccanegra.

Krassimira Stoyanova makes her Lyric Opera debut in the role of Amelia. She is a dashing singing actress, her expressive mid range lush and lovely. As she warmed up, her top became a strand of melodic song, sometimes punctuated with arresting trills and warbles. She has pinpoint accuracy of pitch and takes ungainly note spans and varied dynamics with a cool skill. Her beautiful and varied soprano is more than matched by her fluid motions, always appropriate to her emotional life and also matched to the music. Her expressive physical performance compliments and underscores her vocal lines. Among the top sopranos today, it is hard to think of a comparable combination of vocal and dramatic abilities. The reconciliation with her father rivals Brunhilde's scene at the end of Die Walküre in its emotional tug.

As confusing as Amelia's genealogy may be, the emotional alliances and breakups are clear in Verdi's duets, trios and quartets. The blending of voices is striking in this production. Ferruccio Furlanetto is familiar in his wonderful bass growl, which has a purity to which he adds a rich and moving vibrato as he moves up registers. His low G flat in "Il lacerto spirtu" thrilled. The transition from one texture to another is seamless, as Furlanetto channels Verdi. He captures the arc of his character, from the vicious beginnings as villain to his redemptive moments comforting Boccanegra, father to father, at the end.

Frank Lopardo is a Lyric stalwart. In the role of Adorno, his soaring tenor has just the right edge to pierce the orchestra and capture the ear. Adorno in Lopardo's performance is no longer the weaker of Amelia's two suitors. His voice mixed in an exciting and rich style with Stoyanova's and they made a convincing romantic pair. Lopardo like the other characters who are transformed as the story is told, takes us with thoughtful ease from cocky suitor to tender son-in-law of his arch enemy.

Thomas Hampson sounds as welcome in Chicago as he does in his Opernhaus Zurich home. As arresting buccaneer Boccanegra, he is trapped by love interests and power grabs. Yet it is easy to imagine him as a pirate past, subdued by the loss of his love, Maria and also enticed by power because he is of the people and grasps their needs. His “Plebi! Patrizia! Populo!” foreshadows Mark Anthony. Standing tall, and in swooping robes that often appear to hide treasure (swords?), he is at once convincing and touching. Hampson talks about the characters “deep abiding sense of humanity and compassion...,” which he fully realizes. To Boccanegra he brings nobility in the vocally demanding role. His burnished tenor and consummate musicianship remind us how spoiled we are by his performances in the opera and concert worlds.

Simon Boccanegra is an opera in which the singing stars, the orchestra providing background with occasionally bursting statements. Sir Andrew Davis conducted with aplomb, and full support of the singers. The plot may be complex, but each character clearly marks his place and holds you in thrall to the story's unfolding tale from start to finish.

Susan Hall



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