Domingo The Baritone In Verdi's 'Simon Boccanegra'

fromWDAV

Placido Domingo sing the title role in Verdi’s 'Simon Boccanegra' at the BBC Proms, July 18th. i i

Tenor Placido Domingo switches to the baritone register to sing the title role in Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra last month at the BBC Proms Concerts. Chris Christodoulou/BBC hide caption

itoggle caption Chris Christodoulou/BBC
Placido Domingo sing the title role in Verdi’s 'Simon Boccanegra' at the BBC Proms, July 18th.

Tenor Placido Domingo switches to the baritone register to sing the title role in Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra last month at the BBC Proms Concerts.

Chris Christodoulou/BBC

The Hit Single

The highly-charged Council Chamber Scene, in Act One, was added in the 1881 version of the opera. In it, Boccanegra (Placido Domingo) challenges the rulers and people of Genoa to overcome their differences ("Plebe! Patrizi! Popolo …"). The entire cast and chorus respond, in a spectacular ensemble conveying the wide range of their conflicting emotions.

The B Side

One of the opera's pivotal moments comes earlier in Act One when Boccanegra (Placido Domingo) and Amelia (soprano Marina Poplavskaya) first realize their true relationship. Their duet begins with Simon's exclamation, "Figlia! a tal nome io palpito" — "Daughter! At that name I tremble."

When Giuseppe Verdi's publisher approached the composer in 1881 about creating a brand new version of a decades-old opera, Verdi was nearly seventy years old. He was also about to prove that, at least in his case, age was no impediment to continued greatness.

The opera in question was Simon Boccanegra, and Verdi went on to do far more in his final years than just produce a spectacular new edition of that drama. He promptly went on to compose two more operas, and they're among the greatest operas of all time: Otello and Falstaff.

So it's fitting that the production of Simon Boccanegra featured here happens to star another artist who's in the process of confirming his greatness at a similar stage of life.

It was more than 40 years ago, in 1968, when a little-known tenor named Placido Domingo took the international spotlight in his debut at the Metropolitan Opera as a surprise fill-in for the legendary tenor Franco Corelli. Now, as Domingo approaches his own 70th birthday, he's still making plenty of headlines.

Domingo has always lived by the personal credo, "If I rest, I rust." And to prove it, he continuously explores new artistic territory. For example, over the past few seasons, World of Opera has featured Domingo in roles as varied as Siegmund in Wagner's Ring Cycle and Bajazet in Handel's Tamerlano — the 126th role of his career. And now, he's pushing his boundaries even further, singing not as a tenor, but as a baritone, in the title role of Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra.

Along with complex characters, plenty of spectacle and a deep, psychological underpinning, Simon Boccanegra has one more element that fell right into Verdi's wheelhouse. Throughout his career, the composer had an affinity for creating complex and highly-nuanced baritone roles. Just think of Rigoletto, Germont in La Traviata, the villain Iago in Otello and the title role in Falstaff — and then add Simon Boccanegra to the list. It’s perfect material for a singer with extraordinary expressive range, as well as a great voice. Even, as it turns out, if that singer is a tenor — and especially if that tenor is Placido Domingo.

On World of Opera, host Lisa Simeone presents Simon Boccanegra in a production from the 2010 Proms Concerts in London, featuring Placido Domingo with a fascinating and stirring interpretation of the opera's baritone title role. Joining Domingo on stage at the Royal Albert Hall are three other singers who also give standout performances: tenor Joseph Calleja as Adorno, soprano Marina Poplavskaya as Amelia and bass Ferruccio Furlanetto as Fiesco.

See the previous edition of World of Opera or the full archive.

The Story Of 'Simon Boccanegra'

Boccanegra (Placido Domingo) discovers that Amelia (Marina Poplavskaya) is his long-lost daughter. i i

In a touching reunion scene, Boccanegra (Placido Domingo) discovers that Amelia (Marina Poplavskaya) is his long-lost daughter, in this performance at the 2010 BBC Proms. Chris Christodoulou hide caption

itoggle caption Chris Christodoulou
Boccanegra (Placido Domingo) discovers that Amelia (Marina Poplavskaya) is his long-lost daughter.

In a touching reunion scene, Boccanegra (Placido Domingo) discovers that Amelia (Marina Poplavskaya) is his long-lost daughter, in this performance at the 2010 BBC Proms.

Chris Christodoulou

Who's Who

Placido Domingo …... Simon Boccanegra

Marina Poplavskaya ………….….. Amelia

Joseph Calleja …………. Gabriele Adorno

Ferruccio Furlanetto …… Jacopo Fiesco

Jonathan Summers …….. Paolo Albiani

Lukas Jakobski …………………. Pietro

Royal Opera House Orchestra and Royal Opera Chorus

Antonio Pappano, conductor

BACKGROUND: Verdi wrote Simon Boccanegra in 1857 with librettist Francesco Piave, whose resume already included Verdi's hits Rigoletto and La Traviata. Still, the world premiere was a flop.

Nearly 25 years later, the composer had another go at it, this time enlisting librettist Arrigo Boito. (Boito also wrote the librettos for Verdi's Otello and Falstaff, giving him a pretty good resume, too.) Both composer and librettist thought Boccanegra was too gloomy and they needed to lighten it up a little. Their revision did little to make the opera lighter, but it did make it better.

Among many other changes, Boito added the famous Council Chamber scene. It's a sequence the younger Verdi might have struggled with in the 1850s. By 1880, its potential for complex ensembles, vivid characterization and high drama, was right up Verdi's alley.

PROLOGUE: The action beings in a square at night, where Simon agrees to be a candidate for Doge, or leader, of Genoa. He'll represent the commoners in a contest against the candidate of the noblemen.

A lantern is lit at the nearby palace of a nobleman named Fiesco who comes out of his home to confront Boccanegra. Fiesco says his daughter Maria has just died. Maria and Boccanegra had been lovers, but Fiesco never approved of Boccanegra and the two men became enemies. Boccanegra offers his sympathies, but Fiesco says differences can only be mended if Boccanegra turns over the daughter he fathered with Maria — Fiesco's grandchild. Boccanegra says his daughter has mysteriously disappeared.

The orchestra plays a beautiful, innocently soaring string theme as Boccanegra enters Fiesco's home, looking for Maria. He finds her body just as the crowd joyfully announces his election as Doge.

ACT ONE:The drama resumes 25 years later. Boccanegra is still the Doge of Genoa and has gained enormous power. Outside the palace of Genoa's wealthy Grimaldi family, we meet the young woman Amelia Grimaldi. Boccanegra has banished the Grimaldi sons for subversive activity. Amelia is in love with a young nobleman, Gabriele Adorno, who arrives to speak with Amelia's guardian. The guardian is actually Fiesco, Boccanegra's longtime enemy, now living under an assumed name. Boccanegra's advisor Pietro interrupts, saying the Doge himself is approaching and would like to visit Amelia. She agrees.

As Amelia suspected, Simon wants her to marry his associate Paolo, and he offers to pardon her brothers if she'll agree. She's grateful, but says she's in love with Adorno. Anyway, she tells him, she's not really a Grimaldi by birth. She was taken in as a foundling, after the old woman who was caring for her died.

Considering this, Simon produces a locket with a picture of Maria, his long-dead lover. Amelia has the same picture in her own locket — it's a picture of her mother, whom she never knew. They both realize that Amelia is Simon's own lost daughter and Verdi gives them a reunion scene that rivals even his own masterpiece Rigoletto in its portrayal of love between father and daughter.

Boccanegra leaves and abruptly tells Paolo to forget about marrying Amelia. But Paolo's not going to bow out quietly. He and Pietro plot to kidnap Amelia before she can marry Adorno.

The famous scene in the Doge's Council Chamber begins with a group of plebeians admitted with a grievance. They've apprehended two noblemen — Amelia's lover, Adorno, and her guardian, whom Simon still doesn't recognize as Fiesco. It seems Adorno has killed a plebeian leader. Adorno says the man he killed had tried to abduct Amelia on the orders of "a powerful person." Adorno assumes the Doge himself ordered the kidnapping and draws his sword to assassinate Boccanegra. The Doge's men step between them, Amelia begs Simon not to harm Adorno.

Boccanegra agrees, at least until the whole kidnapping matter is straightened out. This enrages Paolo, which puts Simon in a tricky, political situation. But the Doge has a psychological trick up his sleeve. He rightly assumes it was Paolo who actually ordered Amelia's abduction. So he pronounces a deadly curse on the supposedly unknown kidnapper and forces Paolo to repeat that curse. The act ends as the superstitious Paolo knowingly curses himself while dreading the possible consequences.

Curtain call at the BBC Proms for the cast of "Simon Boccanegra." i i

Curtain call at the BBC Proms for the cast of Simon Boccanegra (from left to right: Ferruccio Furlanetto, Joseph Calleja, Marina Poplavskaya, Plácido Domingo and Lukas Jakobski). Chris Christodoulou hide caption

itoggle caption Chris Christodoulou
Curtain call at the BBC Proms for the cast of "Simon Boccanegra."

Curtain call at the BBC Proms for the cast of Simon Boccanegra (from left to right: Ferruccio Furlanetto, Joseph Calleja, Marina Poplavskaya, Plácido Domingo and Lukas Jakobski).

Chris Christodoulou

ACT TWO: Paolo is left in a sort of double jeopardy. He's afraid of the curse and of what the Doge will do when he finds out what's been going on. Paolo decides that his only way out is to kill Boccanegra.

Paolo knows he'll never keep his power if he's known to be the Doge's assassin, but he wants to be doubly sure of Simon's death. First, he puts poison into Simon's carafe of drinking water. Then he summons Adorno and Amelia's guardian Fiesco, who are both being held in the palace as plotters against the Doge. Paolo suggests that Fiesco might just want to sneak up on the Doge while he's asleep — and murder him. Fiesco refuses and returns to his cell.

Paolo then tells Adorno that Amelia is in the palace, visiting Simon, implying that the two are lovers. Adorno finds this plausible — he doesn't know that Simon and Amelia are actually father and daughter. He confronts Amelia. She refuses to reveal her true relationship to Simon, and Adorno is convinced that she's betrayed him.

Meeting with Simon in private, Amelia asks him to give Adorno clemency in return for political support. Simon agrees and Amelia goes off to find Adorno.

Alone, Simon drinks the water that Paolo has poisoned and falls asleep. Adorno appears and, unaware of the deal Amelia made, is intent on killing Boccanegra. But Amelia stops him. In a dramatic trio, Adorno finds out that Amelia is Simon's daughter and he asks for the Doge's forgiveness and vows his loyalty.

ACT THREE: Fiesco has been freed, as part of the Doge's deal with Adorno, and is now in a position of power. Paolo has been taken into custody and tells Fiesco that he has poisoned the Doge. He also admits that he's the one who planned Amelia's abduction. For his trouble, he's hauled off in chains.

The Doge himself appears, still unaware that he's been poisoned. Fiesco reveals his true identity, as father of Simon's long-dead lover, Maria. Simon can now accept the peace that Fiesco offered as the opera began and reveals that Amelia is his daughter, and Fiesco's granddaughter. Fiesco and Simon are reconciled, and Fiesco tearfully tells the Doge that Paolo has poisoned him.

After blessing the love of Amelia and Adorno, Boccanegra names Adorno his successor and dies.

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