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
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
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.