Viva! Viva! Viva Simon Boccanegra from the Royal Opera House!

I recently returned from a vacation to London where I saw two performances at the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden: Britten’s Gloriana and Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra. The experience of being at that opera house once was so amazing, that my family and I had to go back! I am so glad that we returned, because seeing great Verdi with a great cast was an excellent finish to our vacation.

Photo: Council Chamber Scene (Act I Scene 2) of Simon Boccanegra at ROH

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The singing was marvelous all around. Thomas Hampson was a powerful Doge, sounding much more full and less forced than he can sound at the Metropolitan Opera. Russian soprano Hibla Gerzmava as Amelia was my favorite. Her voice has this bloom in it that I cannot get over, just as I could not get over it in her first aria Come in quest’ora bruna. She also sang beautifully as Stella and Antonia in Les Contes d’Hoffmann and as Liù in Turandot at the Met in past seasons. Ferruccio Furlanetto played an excellent Fiesco, and his voice rang more complimentary in the Royal Opera House than the Met. It was lovely hearing Russell Thomas in a bigger role as Gabriele Adorno. He has a very focused and beautiful sound that worked with the acoustics of the theater. I would love to hear him in bigger roles, like Adorno, back in New York. Dmitri Platanias was a marvelous Paolo, a role that is often undercast at the Met even with its importance in the plot. I particularly enjoyed his scene where he debates over how to kill Boccanegra, with poison or with a knife. He was dramatic, and he was far from undercast in his role as Paolo. Finally, I heard a tremendous amount of potential in Jihoon Kim singing Pietro. Even for his small role, the bass had a strong and memorable voice. He has sung many small roles at the Royal Opera and participated in several young artist programs there, giving him potential to fly over here and sing at the Met some day!

Photo: Thomas Hampson as Simon and Hibla Gerzmava as Amelia

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The Royal Opera House Chorus did a fabulous job. Simon Boccanegra is one of the many operas that Verdi composed that includes the chorus almost as another character. The orchestra under Sir Antonio Pappano played brilliantly. In some spots, especially the Council Chamber scene, the tempi was taken a bit more leisurely than in other performances I’ve seen. However, it still had adrenaline and I left Act I feeling invigorated.

It was lovely and relieving to see a traditional production after watching regie productions of Ariadne auf Naxos at Glyndebourne and Gloriana. The production took place where it was supposed to be in 14th century Genoa. Most of the sets were made up of simple columns with the sky as a background, or golden writing in Latin discussing Simon Boccanegra. I enjoyed seeing the rich materials, colors, and details of the costumes for the Doge and his congress, and all in all seeing a traditional production where I did not have to think about representation or ask myself “What does that supposed to mean?”. I knew what everything meant in Moshinsky’s production, and I was able to focus on Verdi’s great music.

Attending not one, but two performances at the Royal Opera House was a major treat. Hearing opera in a smaller, more traditional sized opera house than that of New York was a very interesting and special experience. From seeing two performances there, I have found that singers do not have to force their voices to reach the 4,000th seat in the Family Circle as much as they do at the Met. In this theater, singers sound much more comfortable because there are far fewer seats and there is less distance that they have to make their voices travel. It was even more comfortable to listen to! I cannot wait to one day go back to London and see another performance at this special opera house.

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A Review of Gloriana from the Royal Opera House

Only a few days ago I returned from a vacation to London where I saw several performances at different venues, including two performances at the Royal Opera House. Located in Covent Garden, the Royal Opera House was such an amazing musical theater and place to be, that my family and I had to go back a second time! We saw Britten’s Gloriana and decided to return on our last night of the trip to see Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra. It was a fantastic experience to be seated in and attend performances at the Royal Opera House, a place where I had always wanted to go.

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The first performance that my family attended at the Royal Opera House was Gloriana on July 6th. The production was by Richard Jones, and it starred soprano Susan Bullock as Queen Elizabeth and tenor Toby Spence as the Earl of Essex. The opera was written by Benjamin Britten and premiered at the Royal Opera House in 1953 to celebrate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. The Royal Opera House brought it back this year to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the coronation!

The singing was phenomenal. Susan Bullock played a serious and focused Queen Elizabeth, giving a masterclass in acting. Toby Spence’s light tenor voice was refreshing to hear as the Earl of Essex. Patricia Bardon as the Countess of Essex gave an amazing performance, simply extending her talent across the pond after stunning everyone performing the role of Cornelia in Giulio Cesare. Out of all the great singing that I heard that night, Kate Royal as Lady Rich was my favorite. Her voice had a particular blossom at the top that was positively gorgeous to listen to. I particularly liked her high C that she held when she was told that Essex was sentenced to death. It rang brightly through the hall even with the dark situation.

The production was without a doubt entertaining, colorful, and attractive to the human eye. It was a little too busy, however, I preferred it to the drab and plainly colored production on the DVD from the English National Opera in 1984. Richard Jones’ production took place in a school house, as if it were a play within a play, like Ariadne. Before every scene a whole line of school boys dressed in uniforms would come out and hold letters, spelling the name of the place where the following scene would occur. The production also produced drastic lighting changes and very bright colors which were appealing to the human eye. There should have been a warning label pasted on the production for seizures, like they do for video games. For an opera that is not terribly exciting, Richard Jones’ production made up for it through bright lighting, coloring, and costumes.

Photo: Scene from Richard Jones’ Gloriana. Queen Elizabeth (Susan Bullock) in center, Earl of Essex (Toby Spence) lower left, Royal Opera House chorus

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The opera itself left a lot to be desired. There were no big arias for any of the singers, and the choral parts were not terribly strong. The iconic musical aspect of the opera was the neo-Renaissance music that Britten incorporated into his normal style. Medieval and Renaissance fanfares were used in the Queen’s presence, in the dance of Time and Concord presented before the Queen, and on lute in the town scene in Act III. This neo-Renaissance music cannot be found in Peter Grimes or Billy Budd. Overall, I would rather pay a ticket to hear the powerful, stronger, and deeper music and story of Peter Grimes or Billy Budd, rather than Gloriana. However, it was special to hear the neo-Renaissance music incorporated into the opera, and it was a special to hear a Britten opera that is rarely performed.

It was an amazing experience attending a performance at the Royal Opera House. It was also special seeing this opera, in London, celebrating the sixtieth anniversary of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. The Queen may not have liked the opera, but it was written for her, and she is still alive today! It was a cultural experience, and one I will never forget.

Photo: The Dance of Time and Concord with Queen Elizabeth in the back

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