Following crazy rush for Otello in Munich, Saturday promised a great evening in the opera: one of the most touching Verdi operas conducted by Maestro Luisi, starring one of the favorite baritones Ludovic Tézier, supported by great cast including Mika Kares (what a step-in performance from sidelines in “Hamlet” in Bregenz!), seemingly ever-present Maria Agresta and promising Francesco Demuro. Even more, the production by Calixto Bieito certainly will supply both surprises as well as food for thought for some time after the performance. The evening turned into great spectacle dominated by mastery and professionalism of Ludovic Tézier, thus pushing him up on my informal and subjective Top 10 list significantly.
Vocal and dramatic perfection of Tézier mesmerised the audience, it was enhanced by video projections of Boccanegra in close-ups and created the perception of his protagonist’s overwhelming presence.
Boccanegra as a character encompasses immense sadness both from his personal tragedy as well as ongoing political intrigues and fights that proves his never-ending quest to instil peace and stability in the society he has taken honour to serve.
His newfound lost daughter adds to the tragedy as so soon after reunion her heart is stolen by an enemy – Gabriele Adorno.
Final act when poisoned Boccanegra tries to settle her daughter’s future and his own legacy – trembling left hand, slouched posture makes observing the scene almost painful, and his voice while still keeping commanding tone has become fragile.
All notes in Maria Agresta’s score were in place but overall delivery was not deeply emotionally moving and her top notes sometimes felt either insecure or harsh. The most emotional part when she discloses her secret and finds her real father was missing some naivety and sincerity. In overall Agresta delivered sound and engaging performance, and it might be my very subjective perception or response rather than her shortcoming. Well played change from tender and loving daughter to young woman passionately in love who is ready to put her life for lover’s fate.
Francesco Demuro was most of the time in very good control of his voice, then when trying to exert more emotion he lost the balance and had to recover during phrase. He has quite a good instrument that needs further nurturing as the top is free and seemingly limitless. Demuro is good in conveying highly flowing emotions but needs to perfect his piani and softer feelings.
Mika Kares as Jacopo Fiesco created a convincing and multifaceted character, both vocally and dramatically. His key entrance aria “Il lacerato spirito” made a few enthusiasts to exclaim their praise even if the pause in the music was not reached yet. I was almost ready to join them and was eagerly waiting for the following contribution, which especially in the last scenes curbed the enthusiasm and was emotionally touching. His posture and height are just natural characteristics to create believable and charismatic protagonist of Jacopo Fiesco. Kares has great stage presence, it expresses dominance and authority. The same is easily conveyed by his thunderous and imposing bass, he has great legato and seemingly unlimited breath -the phrasing flows uninterrupted and easy. Taking into account the confident singing it is hard to believe that it was his role debut.
Nicola Alaimo as Paolo was more convincing dramatically than vocally and delivered wholesome, credible performance of a shady political player. The scene where he recruits help for future benefits and the dialogue between co-conspirators is so actual these days – you can always find people who are ready for betrayal and murder for promises of gain and glory.
Chorus delivered engaging scene presence and impeccable singing, building up important collective protagonist.
The concept of washed up crashed ship remains dominating the stage throughout the performance and serving as refuge and shelter for Simon Boccanegra or maze for Amelia/ Maria to find her father, hiding and revealing parties and individuals is a great finding for visual identity and link to the storyline.
Bieito approach to focus on the inner world of the main characters and their challenges is well supported by stage design and black and greyish mood. The only surprise and unanswered question for me is the intermission curtain with video projection of naked beautiful woman and dozen of rats waiting for their opportunity to start the feast – video so realistic, rats moving on and around the body, and you can see that the flesh is real, her skin responds to pressure of little paws.. it could be an illustration of the dead body of his lover Maria found 25 years ago – but would have been more appropriate at the beginning or as video projection rather than intermission curtain. Provoking, not sure why nudity was needed.
Maestro Fabio Luisi was leading ONP orchestra to excellence, delivering both overwhelming emotion and subtle nuances and following the singers attentively, especially looking after them during ensemble parts.
The cast received rapturous applause and numerous bravos, especially cheering the main protagonist of the night. Even if I was seated relatively far of the stage, some of the curtain call shots deserve wider audience, and I hope those will convey at least partially my and other audience members enthusiasm and happiness for being present at Opera Bastille that night. Now to some follow up plans for future opera visits – you know who are on the list!
Opera in three acts (1881)
- Music :Giuseppe Verdi
- Libretto :Francesco Maria PiaveArrigo Boito – After Antonio Garcia Guttiérrez
- Performance on November 24th, 2018
Simon Boccanegra : Ludovic Tézier
Jacopo Fiesco : Mika Kares
Maria Boccanegra (Amelia Grimaldi) : Maria Agresta
Gabriele Adorno : Francesco Demuro
Paolo Albani : Nicola Alaimo
Pietro : Mikhail Timoshenko
Un capitano dei balestrieri : Cyrille Lovighi
Un’ancella di Amelia : Virginia Leva-Poncet
Conductor : Fabio Luisi
Director : Calixto Bieito
Set design : Susanne Gschwender
Costume design : Ingo Krügler
Lighting design : Michael Bauer
Video : Sarah Derendinger
Chorus master : José Luis Basso
Orchestre et Choeurs de l’Opéra national de Paris