Mystery score

Mystery score

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Greatest Tenor Role Verdi Never Wrote

No, I am not talking about a role from the never-written Re Lear (you know Lear would have been a bass, anyway). I am talking about the title role of Simon Boccanegra. Written for a baritone, and sung by a long line of legendary singing actors, it has recently been sung here, there, and everywhere by the world's most multitasking tenor, who added demi-baritone to singer, conductor, and opera company general manager. I saw him on February 2 at the Metropolitan.

Here's what I think of Domingo-as-baritone.
  • Those clowns on opera-l who've claimed for years that he was never a tenor, despite 45 years of singing the most strenuous tenor roles in the repertory, were, as you already knew, wrong wrong wrong.
  • I'd really prefer a baritone in the role.
  • He was still more musically and dramatically persuasive than baritones Nikolai Putilin and Dmitri Hvorostovsky.
  • After 45 years of singing the most strenuous tenor roles in the repertory, Domingo sounds damn good. And how many 69-year-olds can you say that about?
  • Yeah, it's a stunt of sorts (see the above, though), but hey - having Domingo in the title role has sold out this opera, which has a famously convoluted and gloomy plot in which the romantic leads are a lot less interesting and important than the political machinations. I've long considered Boccanegra the great unknown Verdi opera, and I'm sure lots of people have gone to see it just for Domingo. Maybe they'll love the opera for its own self now.
The rest was a mixed bag, with James Morris getting off to a wobbly, worn start in "Il lacerato spirito" (it was embarrassingly bad) but gaining steadily in authority if not beauty to a magisterial scene with Domingo at the end. Marcello Giordani is inconsistent and squeezes an awful lot; I find him coarse and noisy at best. Marcus Haddock sang the role better in SF, and I don't understand why the Met audience gave Giordani such a big hand.

Adrienne Pieczonka was Morris-like in having a terribly time in her entrance aria, off pitch in various directions and sounding just plain uncomfortable about the phrasing. Then she pulled together and was very good, sometimes better than that, from the recognition scene to the end, with beautiful trills in the Council Chamber scene. What is it about that aria?? Nobody seems able to bring it off well; Barbara Frittoli also had problems with it in SF in 2008, and we won't discuss Carol Vaness in the previous SFO revival.

I do not have in front of me the name of the singer who sang Paolo; he was a last-minute substitute and sang very well, with plenty of evil but no exaggeration, which can be tough to pull off.

I found the Giancarlo del Monaco production bland; generic city square followed by generic Mediterranean palace, the sort of thing you'd find on the Pacific coast but with a lot more brick and stone than would be prudent in this earthquake-prone area. The council chamber set does look like a 14th c. Italian room, and the director made good use of it in the Fiesco/Boccanegra scene in the last act. Morris entered and sat down on the Doge's throne. He has spent the last 25 years projecting authority, and despite the wear on his voice, this scene was absolutely hair-raising, two master singers making great drama together.

Oh, and while we're at it: a swift and sure recovery to Placido Domingo, who is currently hospitalized and having surgery for an unknown ailment. Long may he sing!

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Agree with everything you said, though I am not a fan of Boccanegra as an opera or role.

Second the well wishes regarding his surgery!

Lisa Hirsch said...

Now, that's interesting! Say more about not being a fan of role or opera. I am a big, big fan of both; I think the lead is Verdi's most interesting baritone part.

Henry Holland said...

Generic city square followed by generic Mediterranean palace, the sort of thing you'd find on the Pacific coast but with a lot more brick and stone than would be prudent in this earthquake-prone area

Hahahaha.

Domingo is a force of nature, I heard him do Sigmund a few years ago in concert and his voice was in very good form. Of course, he still can't sing German very well in terms of getting the words across, but oh well.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Hahaha, yeah, but oh well, as you say.

Anonymous said...

Not sure, Lisa, but it just doesn't grab me. It is a mess of a plot, hardly able to bring me in at all with all the convoluted twists. Musically, the first several bars seem to promise a gorgeous score, which then doesn't really go anywhere (especially for a Verdi opera), and the role is just not a stand out for me in the baritone repertoire. Rather than one of the most interesting roles, to me it seems more like one of the most low-key roles ever written, and I am not sure low key is good for opera (for any type of voice). At least he's not a dumbass like some Verdi baritone roles (Renato).

Lisa Hirsch said...

Yeah, the clarity of the plot was not improved by Boito's changes to the libretto even though he did add the Council Chamber scene. If it just doesn't grab you, that's totally inarguable. :)