Review: Simon Boccanegra, English Touring Opera, Snape, April 19th

Simon Boccanegra was a failure at its first performance in 1857 but Verdi and Boito, his brilliant librettist of Othello and Falstaff, produced a successful revision in 1881 that has established its place in the repertory.

The plot is certainly complex but the characterisation and the music are of the highest quality and in a typically thoughtful programme note (in an equally good programme) director James Conway explained his reasons for setting the action in post - World War Two Italy.

The sombre, uneasy opening, with its air of shifting alliances and long held grievances was perfectly captured by the orchestra under Michael Rosewell and Grant Doyle (Paolo) and Piotr Lempa (Pietro) sustained the tension as they plotted in the gloom. Keel Watson as Fiesco was in fine voice, both in his lamenting solo and his angry first confrontation with Boccanegra. This duet was splendidly delivered with Craig Smith a touching father, recalling his lost daughter.

Both Elizabeth Llewellyn (Amelia) and Charne Rochford as her lover Adorno, had some moments of insecurity but Amelia’s duet with Boccanegra as he realises that he has found his daughter had a thrilling ardour. The finale of Act 1 (dating entirely from Boito’s revision) built to a gripping climax as Boccanegra imperiously forces a seething Paolo into cursing himself. Act two had many fine moments, notably the final trio in which all the singers revelled in the heroic music.

The tension and quality was sustained throughout the final act, Craig Smith managing his decline with a mixture of dignity and despair, Fiesco noble and forgiving as they make peace and Adorno and Amelia joyous at the prospects before them.

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Simon Boccanegra makes heavy demands all round but it is overwhelmingly worthwhile, particularly when delivered with the intelligence and commitment displayed here.

ETO return in the Autumn with Monteverdi, Cavalli and Handel and next Spring with Mozart, Britten and Tippett. They are one of Britain’s artistic heroes and deserve our continued support.

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Gareth Jones

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