Tenor Placido Domingo Takes On Baritone Role of Simon Boccanegra at La Scala
His Repertoire Now Includes Over 130 Roles — And Counting!
Veteran tenor Placido Domingo, having recently recovered from abdominal surgery only a few months ago, was back in the international limelight and gave his dramatic portrayal of the Doge in Verdi’s “Simon Boccanegra” at La Scala in Milan. When Domingo originally auditioned for the National Opera in Mexico as a teenager, it was as a baritone; the wise jury accepted him but told him he was a tenor.
Domingo had often expressed an interest in the baritone role of Boccanegra, and now more than fifty years after his stage debut, he was fulfilling that dream. Major opera houses in the world are clamoring for his services in this role. He has already appeared at Berlin’s Staatsoper and New York’s Metropolitan Opera. His Boccanegra at La Scala will be followed by performances in London and Madrid. Where this 70-year-old marvel gets his stamina remains an unanswered question. Domingo has also spread his swings with a busy conducting schedule and also directs the Los Angeles and Washington Opera Companies.
The initial libretto for “Simon Boccanegra” was provided by Francesco Piave, but the premiere was not a success. Some 25 years later Verdi enlisted the librettist and composer Arrigo Boito to make alterations. It is this version, with its Act 1 Council Chamber scene as its finale, that is usually used today. The revisions by Verdi and Boito did improve things, but the opera still remained out of the mainstream. It has some wonderful music with great arias and choral passages. Its lack of popularity stems from its complex plot.
The opera is set in 14th-century Genoa. The protagonist, Simon Boccanegra, marries Maria, daughter of the aristocratic Fiesco, and they have a daughter. The baby disappears, and Maria dies. At this time, Boccanegra, who is from the proletariat class, is elected Doge of Genoa. All this occurs in the prologue. Act 1 opens 25 years later, and Fiesco has brought up a foundling. No one knows it, but the girl is none other than Simon Boccanegra’s daughter, now known as Amelia Grimaldi. She is in love with the aristocrat Gabriele Adorno. Both Fiesco and Adorno are sworn enemies of the Doge. When Boccanegra sees a locket preserved by Amelia, he realizes that she is his daughter. Adorno believes that Boccanegra is in love with Amelia and only later, when it is revealed to him that she is his daughter, does he switch sides to support Boccanegra. Tragically, it is too late —the Doge has been given poison. Before dying, he appoints Adorno his successor. In the last moments it is revealed to Fiesco that Amelia is his granddaughter.
I had already seen Domingo’s portrayal of the tortured Doge at the Metropolitan in Giancarlo del Monaco’s exciting production. Despite his recent surgery, I thought that Domingo was in much better form at La Scala. He succeeded in bringing out the pathos, sensitivity and magnanimity of Simon’s complex character. Overall he gave a most impressive and memorable portrayal of the role. German soprano Anja Harteros, who played his long-lost daughter, also added immensely to the success. Her touching duet with Domingo when it is revealed that she is his lost daughter was poignant. Her fiery, steely soprano was also brought into play in the Act 1 council chamber scene.
Italian tenor Fabio Sartori took on the role of Amelia’s lover and sang effectively. On the other hand, veteran bass Ferruccio Furlanetto, as the deeply troubled and unhappy Fiesco, was uncomfortable with the upper register, and this was certainly not one of his memorable performances. The demanding loggione (gallery), crowded as usual with the most critical opera aficionados, were merciless with him.
Daniel Barenboim led the La Scala orchestra well in a robust, convincing performance of Verdi’s powerful and dramatic score and provided sympathetic accompaniment to the singers. However this opinion was not shared by the loggione, and he was greeted by loud boos.
This Milan production premiered in Berlin and is directed by Federico Tiezzi. The minimalistic sets by Pier Paolo Bisleri combined both abstract and realistic concepts. I found the production unremarkable and rather uninteresting. The real stars of the evening were Domingo and Harteros. They succeeded in making this a night to remember and cherish.
Domingo was scheduled to sing in six performances. Unfortunately one was cancelled due to a strike at La Scala. I pity those unfortunate ticket holders who were shortchanged and missed such an exciting experience. #