Home | Reviews | Articles | Festivals | Competitions | Other | Contact Us

Verdi Simon Boccanegra

Simon Boccanegra Bruno Caproni
Amelia Rena Harms
Jacopo Fiesco Brindley Sherratt
Gabriele Adorno Peter Auty
Paolo Albiani Roland Wood
Pietro Mark Richardson

Conductor Edward Gardner
Director Dmitri Tcherniakov
Set Designer Dmitri Tcherniakov
Lighting Designer Gleb Filshtinsky
Translator James Fenton

ENO at The Colisuem, London 8 June 2011

Sung in English, as is ENO's house style (though some of the singers refused to forsake Italian prouncation of names) this production had surtitles and too large-print synopses on screen to help unravel an almost impossibly confusing story line, which spanned 25 years in theatre time and likewise as many in its composition and revision.

Edward Gardner and Dmitri Tcherniakov prove to be a sturdy team, and this Boccenegra has many strengths. The drab sets for the Grimaldi palazzo and the Council Hall in Genoa, grey their predominant colour, had an advantage for the singers, the solid back walls throwing the sound up into the auditorium. From the circle most of the singing was effective, as was the superb orchestral playing.

But importantly, we never see the sea, which figures considerably in the libretto and in Verdi's music. There are some bizarre windows, which show nothing through them, and doors which support some peculiar entrances and exits.

Those oddities apart, Tcherniakov's management of naturalistic movement and stage placements of principals and of the large chorus is sure-footed, and by the interval after Act 1, one and a half hours in, it was feeling something of an ENO triumph.

But later things got increasingly confused, with motivation less sure, and any possible advantages of the updating, nowadays de rigeur, withering away.

No visible poisoning, no death scene, a funny hat for Boccenegra at the end ** - all that drained enthusiasm; the night was saved by Gardner & the ENO orchestra at its best, which won due audience appreciation, and by several of the singers, Brindley Sherrat especially.

One could mostly see the point of the directorial decisions, but it's doubtful whether they will have pleased the "new audience", which hopes for something more colourful in a night at the Italian opera.

But do see the ENO trailer, Gardner's interview, and hope for a broadcast to be able to concentrate on the music.*

Peter Grahame Woolf

* [Bloomberg] - - things are as good musically as they are bad visually. Edward Gardner conducts with warmth, clarity and passion. Tenor Peter Auty (looking distinctly uncomfortable in tight motorcycle leathers) sings up a Verdian storm as the firebrand Adorno. Brindley Sherratt and Roland Wood are in top form as Boccanegra’s enemies, and Caproni brings style and variety to the demanding title role. Close your eyes, and you might enjoy it. You’ll avoid seeing the silly toy paper hat Boccanegra has to put on in his death scene too.
Rating: **

FT **- - is it Genoa? Verdi’s music speaks of the sea. The libretto is full of maritime references. Boccanegra himself is a “pirate”. There’s ne’er a whiff of this in Tcherniakov’s sterile interiors - -

** Alexa Woolf, having read the ending quite differently, comments that "Tcherniakov does not present Simon(e)'s death melodramatically, but as a sublimely poetic and moving event overtaking him. As the poison takes hold - "even the water tastes bitter" - we see him gradually retreat from life, regressing into his youthful seafaring past as a pirate. Childlike, he plays with a folded paper boat waving it in the air as if gently rocking on water, then donning it onto his own head... His calls for his beloved wife/daughter Maria are poignantly unheard. real contact seems no longer possible and he drifts out through the door separating life (Tcheniakov's "boardroom") to death, vanishing as if losing consciousness...