ROH last season) in terms of sets, costumes, lighting (all ultra grand, ultra traditional, but meticulously avoiding the gaudy or kitsch - big pillars, marble floors, wooden tables, clear skies) and even draws comparison in the physical direction in a few scenes, but he nevertheless manages to capture the grandeur and scope of this peculiar and troublesome opera and can draw a line through its dramatic convolutions where many others have faltered. As ever with Verdi, it's the human drama, those moments of intense release, that justify (and are a result of) the contrived windings of the plot; Moshinsky knows this, paring things down to their essentials at these moments and letting the music and text do its thing. Thus, the final tender reconciliation between the two old men, redemption and forgiveness after a lifetime of rivalry, simply staged with them leaning into one another in tender embrace, is far more moving than one usually encounters, because the dramatic groundwork has been meticulously laid, even if we didn't quite follow it fully as it was happening. Moshinsky takes Verdi at his word, trying to uncover the nuances in the text, never reinterpreting or re-imagining. Traditionalists will love it, others will find it frustratingly square. It does heavily rely on having a cast that act with conviction and subtlety which can't always be guaranteed.
The cast was decent I thought, though everyone involved took a while to warm up both vocally and dramatically. Most troublesome for me was Thomas Hampson as Simon Boccanegra. Technically he can more than sing the role and he's loud enough to make an impact in the role; dramatically speaking he also does a very reasonable job. To complain about singing of this standard would seem to be cavilling, but his portrayal ends up being less than the sum of its parts. There's something so careful and mannered about his singing, the delivery of the text very artificial and cerebral without penetrating the heart of the matter. His dynamic range is very wide, his control admirable, but the timbre is no longer very attractive, and the legato is studied rather than limpid. Somehow the technical mastery is being substituted for heartfelt interpretation or genuine response to the music - we never glimpse the "soul of the character" as Gerald Finley so beautifully puts it in this article. Gerald Finley makes an interesting point of comparison actually because he is superficially quite similar (age, approach, repertoire, level of achievement), but is by far the more interesting artist because he can live the part. There are recordings of Hampson's from the 1990's which I truly love - mostly in song repertoire it has to be said - but this was a disappointing showing.
Fiesco is not quite the dream matching of role and singer for Ferruccio Furlanetto that King Philip II was in Don Carlos, but he was wonderful in the second act, managing the transition into old age superbly, as Hampson also did. A class act. I've found Dimitri Platanias dramatically null in previous Verdi productions, so it was pleasant to see him on more engaging dramatic form here as Paolo. Vocally he was surprisingly variable throughout the evening ranging from totally on top of the music, to struggling to project it with enough force, luckily tending more towards the former.
Pappano lead a lushly solid performance in the pit, clearly relishing the dark sonorities of Verdi's score. Occasionally I wished the textures had been more finely differentiated, but this was a satisfying reading, and the orchestra were on good form. Overall Moshinsky and Pappano hold this evening together and make it worth seeing for Verdi admirers.
Photos Copyright Clive Barda/ROH