Simon Boccanegra has not always be seen as Verdi’s greatest creation, but Dmitri Tcherniakov’s new production for English National Opera reminds us that it should not be underestimated.
The plot considers what happens when Boccanegra, a real fourteenth century figure, becomes the Doge of Genoa. A pirate by background, he governs wisely enough, but ultimately cannot overcome the individuals, factions and circumstances that all conspire against him.
The first shadowy scene could come straight out of an Italian film noir, although it contains a host of international references such as the café from Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks and dark alleys that might see the Third Man jump out at any moment. As we then advance twenty-five years we move into a modern day ‘Doge’s Palace’ with a court room that could resemble any standard conference hall. If the persistence of such a sterile area for the whole of the second half feels a heavy price to pay for making the point that power struggles are timeless, this is compensated for by the exemplary performances on offer.
As Boccanegra, Bruno Caproni convincingly undergoes the transition from bottle swigging ‘pirate’ to fair minded, but flawed, statesman, while, as Amelia, Rena Harms’ sweet voice successfully underpins both the joy and sadness that she feels by turns. The highest vocal accolades, however, go to Peter Auty who is on wondrous form as Gabriele Adorno, and Brindley Sherratt whose firm bass captures the enigmatic nature of Boccanegra’s rival, Fiesco.
Simon Boccanegra is a difficult opera to follow, and between each scene synopses are displayed, which may not please the purists but will help everyone else to get more out of the evening. Tcherniakov also provides innovative takes on several of the opera’s issues, while Edward Gardner’s superb conducting can only remind us of the brilliance of Verdi’s music.
Until 9 July (ten performances) with start times of 18:30 or 19:30. Tickets: 0871 911 0200 or from the ENO website
Photo: Brindley Sherratt's Fiesco lurks in the shadows, © Mike Hoban