Verdi - Simon Boccanegra / Freni, Cappuccilli, Carreras, Ghiaurov, van Dam, Foiani, Teatro alla Scala, Abbado
Verdi - Simon Boccanegra / Freni, Cappuccilli, Carreras, Ghiaurov, van Dam, Foiani, Teatro alla Scala, Abbado

 
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Customer Reviews:

  • The best Verdi opera in Abbado's Studio discography
    Claudio Abbado's reign at La Scala produced some of the finest productions of Verdi's operas ever mounted on the stage. From that prolific era came his dark and revolutionary Macbeth (Verrett, Cappuccilli, Tagliavini), the greatest Don Carlo (Freni, Carreras, Cappucilli, Ghiaurov, Obraztsova), the most powerful Aidas (Arroyo, Domingo, Cossotto, Cappuccilli), and this outstanding Simon Boccanegra. Although I regard Don Carlo as one of Verdi's greatest achievements, I think this Boccanegra is the crown jewel in Abbado's extensive discography of great performances. He led a fascinating team of soloists with the La Scala orchestra and the great Italian opera producer Giorgio Strehler in what was the greatest stage production of Simon Boccanegra in operatic history. I don't think even Giancarlo del Monaco's dark, elegant sets combat this magnificent production in terms of symbolic lighting, stage direction, and production value.

    Credit must be given primarily to Abbado for handling such a complex Verdi score. The luminescent and chiaroscuro shades and the dramatic colors begged by the 1881 revision of the score presents a challenge to any conductor willing to undertake the difficult task of presenting the work before an audience. In several aspects, I think Simon Boccanegra is second only to Don Carlo and Otello as the most difficult works of Verdi to conduct. In my opinion, only Abbado, Serafin, Mitropoulos, and recently, Fabio Luisi, have been able to successfully bring out the shades of ochre, crimson, and sienna that characterize this masterpiece. Abbado, of course, attained perfection in his interpretation of the score when he realized the many subtleties. The La Scala strings have never sounded more shimmering and beautiful, and the typical Verdian musical language is gracefully incorporated by Abbado into producing dramatic moments rather than distinctive arias. No, Abbado doesn't treat it like Otello, but rather as the continuous drama that it should be with elements of early Donizettian style taken from his incubation period to the thespian sense of his latter years.

    Saying that, I think the cast also contributes to the success of this recording. In the history of the opera's performances, there is perhaps no Amelia more successful than Mirella Freni, and by that I say that she is better than Renata Tebaldi, Zinka Milanov, Antonietta Stella, Astrid Varnay, Karita Mattila, and Kiri te Kanawa, among the other singers who have assumed this demanding spinto role. Her beautiful, youthful timbre, her natural sense of phrasing, her mastery of the language, and her impeccable legato line allow her to focus herself on the drama of the performance, thus giving us a three-dimensional portrait of Amelia often turned into a cardboard cut character by most sopranos. A definitive performance indeed, and perhaps her greatest Verdi character on record. Gabriele Adorno is played by the youthful Jose Carreras, whose youthful, sweet tone is a refreshing change of pace among the dramatic bulls who have no business sticking their noses in a role where lyricism favors dramatic weight. I would say that he and Carlo Bergonzi are the greatest exponents of this short yet elegant tenor role. The roles of Paolo and Fiesco are taken respectively by Jose Van Dam and Nicolai Ghiaurov, two of the greatest low male voices in the history of opera. Nicolai Ghiaurov gives a searingly noble characterization of Fiesco, much like the grand portrayal he gave of King Filippo II in Don Carlo. I would say that he and Ferruccio Furlanetto are the only basses to have given so much insight to this role.

    In addition to all those amazing singers, I believe that the reason to get this recording is to listen to the Doge of Piero Cappuccilli. There is no doubt that he was one of the greatest Verdi baritones of a bygone era, and in perspective with his Amonasros, Rodigros, di Lunas, and Iagos, there is perhaps no greater assumption of this role than what Cappuccilli has to offer. There is a nobility, a compassion, and a elegiac quality to his singing that elevates his Boccanegra to a definitive status. Without a doubt, one of the greatest characterizations in his long career.

    My verdict? This is the best recording of the opera that you will find in the market, so I hope you don't waste a chance to grab it....more info
  • Truly magnificent!
    Bravo! Bravo! Bravo!
    This word sums up everything that can be said for this recording. Here we have one of the best (the other in my opinion Santini's with Gobbi) recordings of this neglected Verdi's masterpiece.
    It is true that "Simon" is one of the most underrated Verdi operas and there are many reasons. The tenor and soprano parts are not enormous and there are many baritones and basses in the first roles. It is true that this is (as it has been called) an opera for the low voices. But oh boy! What music! When you hear it you absolutely love it. Maybe the plot is too confusing and sometimes it bores the listener but the music compensates at every bit.
    In this recording we have in the title role Pierro Cappuccilli, a baritone not quite famous for his acting skills but with a majestic voice. Here he acts too. Maybe due to Abbado's training. He gives shades to his voice and we can hear his anger, pity, compassion, remorse! Just listen to his performance of the last act and you will get the meaning. Many have said (and I agree) that this is his finest performance on disc. (Another great,and maybe surpassing Cappuccilli on some acting aspects, is Tito Gobbi's).
    Cappuccilli is accompanied here by many truly great singers. Mirella Freni and Jose Carreras give riveting performances and their voices blend very very well together. Ghiaurov as always is magnificent and his huge bass voice captivates the ear from the beginning (as does Boris Christoff on the Santini set) and the rest (most notably Jose van Dam and Foiani) give very good performances.
    Abbado (as in every Verdi recording he conducts) is in his territory. Correct tempi and very nice conducting.
    All in all, a wonderful recording of a neglected opera and a must for every Verdi fan!!...more info
  • Brilliant
    the Magical Combination of Cappuccilli, Ghairov and Carreras which was employed in the mid 70's often by La Scala has, unfortunatley, left little recorded legacy behind. Unlike the Pavarotti/ Sutherland or Milnes/ domingo, thee artists were less utilized. Their Don Carlos with Karajan was a bit of a bore, with Carreras and Cappuccilli already sounding tired at times. Listen to this Boccanegra (and alternatley the Forza Del Destino video by the Bel Canto society) to discover why this pairing thrilled so many .
    Cappuccilli, who doesn't have the most pliant or beautiful voice, was nevertheless an incredible vocal actor who could blast through the toughest of Verdi's works. In his prime, he lends Boccanegra a power and gruff beauty, and fills out the lines with incredible breath control.
    Ghiaurov's Bass-Baritone, black as death, is always perfect. His melancholy, slighly nasal tone, brings forth shadows of his King Phillip
    Mirella Freni brings what she always brings to an operatic recording. She has a beautiful, warm, dark voice, that retains the control of a lyric soprano. Her top is huge and supple and, in her youthful prime here, she can harly have been wanted to sound better.
    Carreras is a very different singer than the one you might associate with his name. The foggy top notes of the '80's are not yet in evidence (nor is the hakneyed and desperate phrasing). The wobble of the 90's is nowhere. This is the Carreras that was, for 5 years or so, the most popular and exciting of the worlds tenors. His tone is bright and his top has a ring and plangent spinto that Domingo could never approach (of course I love Domingo and recognize that he has sung excellently for 40 years to Carreras's 10.) Yet it is worth the price of the Cd to hear this exquisite Carreras singing.
    Jose Van Dam is a surprizingly high-class paolo. Jose is in the same great form that produced his legendary Escamillio just 2 years previously with Domingo.
    Verdi's political masterpiece speaks for itself. It is a touching story, and although it is complex it is not impossible to follow. There are no toe tapping numbers, but the musical standard is the greatest in the world.
    I highly reccommend this set....more info
  • One of the greatest Verdi opera recordings ever!
    Amazing that no one else has written a comment upon this gramophone classic! From the glories of Cappuccilli - who I usually do not like - to the ringing lyric tenor of Carreras, this recording leaves nothing wanting. Even the recent Met broadcast did not surpass this, great as it was. Although Mattila does give Freni more than a run for the money. We still wait for the likes of Ghiaurov, and the mellifluous sound of van Dam will not be with us for ever. Any Verdi lover who does not own this recording is culturally deprived. Respendent choral singing and the orchestra is top notch too! Abbado's finest opera recording of a still much under appreciated work!...more info
  • Cappuccilli not Gobbi: Thats brillianti!
    Abbado's Simon Boccanegra is the finest Recording I have herd, yet. For one thing thist one of Verdi's best works, and we also got singers who follow the ruels of bel-canto. Abbado and Cappuccilli are men who know how to perform a Verdi opera, They are specilsti in there art. The rest of cast stands up pretty good and the sound is fine....more info
  • needed to be seen
    I happened to see this production in paris in the late 70's with the singers as in the CD, conductor Abbado, director Giorgio Strehler, and it is still engraved in my memory as one of those truly magical moments that justify years of listening to poor performances. The final act, the death of simon, was a moment of absollute beauty, with the two tremendous voices of Capuccilli dying and ghiaurov realising he is losing a son ...
    It is true that Simon is not an easy opera, there are few aris, and the titel role has not a single aria. For those who like easy opera, go to Carmen, or traviata, or boheme (which incidentally I love and have seen many times with good (ah! boheme with freni-domingo!!, cosi with te kanawa and ludwig!!!) or less good singers and directors. Simon is second-grade opera: you graduate to simon once you start understanding what opera is really all about: sit, let the music immerge you (especially simon with its marine leitmotiv), and spend 2 or 3 hours (or 5 if its wagner) in another universe...
    The recording is almost as good as the real thing, but since there no hope to ever see these singers together again, buy the record, close your eyes, and "bon voyage"...more info
  • Among the best, ever
    As usual, Claudio Abbado brings to life opera (particularly Verdi): DG version of Simon Boccanegra is truly among the best achievements in opera recordings, with its central Grand Council scene shining like a crown daimond of a great composer and a great conductor.
    It is, truly, a must....more info
  • It will do in a pinch
    The truth is that the best parts of this recording are the tenor, Jose Carreras and the soprano, Mirella Freni. And it is probably not fair to say "Well, it aint Gobbi/Christoff". All that is true but the performance stands very nicely on its own qualities, thank you very much. Even if Cappuccilli does not make the character come alive as Gobbi did, the singing is quite beautiful and the text is delivered with integrity and point. Ghiaurov has never done much for me, and he doesnt here either, but, again, there is some understanding of the text and pointed delivery. I will always value this Simon, however, for the beauty brought to the parts by Carreras and Freni: they have not be equalled in my experience. Abbado, also, is a strength in this recording....more info
  • Unbelievable!
    This is a recording any lover of Verdi or of all-around opera must have. After the 1881 revisions, this opera ranks among the best of Verdi's mature works, and contains some of his greatest ensembles. Claudio Abbado's interpretation is superlative, combining high drama with great beauty. His tempi are chosen perfectly, and he shapes the music in a way that only the best Verdi conductors can do. Cappuccilli is an outstanding Doge, with a brilliant range of tone and fantastic majesty in the Council Chamber Scene - indeed, he portrays Simon's emotions at every point in the opera with perfect clarity and dramatic creativity - and this is added to a beautiful, golden baritone voice. Mirella Freni is a touching Amelia/Maria, bringing out the emotions of this character vividly. Jos¨¦ Carreras is terrific as Gabriele, Nicolai Ghiaurov is a perfect Fiesco, and Jos¨¦ van Dam is a chillingly sinister Paolo. Masterful chorus work and superb playing from the La Scala forces. (I think I'm going to run out of adjectives soon!) The packaging is attractive and the sound is brilliantly clear. In addition, this set is at mid-price, making it highly affordable. If you have this, great! If you don't ... get it! Now!...more info
  • A Great Recording of a Tragically Overlooked Opera
    For my part, I have never understood why Simon Boccanegra has not enjoyed the same praise and love that Verdi's other great operas have. Yes, the opera was an initial flop but was the libreto was reworked years later by no less than Boito and this version was a huge success. Yes, the logic of the story leaves something to be desired, but hey, it's opera, since when has that gotten in the way?

    This is one of my favorite Verdi operas and I would take it any day over Traviata, Trovatore, or even Aida. The tenors often get the headlines in Verdi Operas, but I would agree with an earlier reviewer that Verdi really understood the low male voices and Simon, like Don Carlo, brings that out. There is a darkness and pathos that runs throughout this work. There is also great passion, both anger: 'Suona Ogni Labbro Il Mio Nome' as well as love and tenderness:'Orfanella Il Tetto Umile'...'Figlia!...A Tal Nome Io Palpito'.

    This recording is a great rendition of a great opera. Cappuccilli's voice is well suited for Simon and brings the complexity that this roles demands. I enjoyed Jose van Dam's Paolo, (the "Iago" in this story) which is dark and menecing. Ghiaurov is simply fantastic as the tortured Fiesco as are Carreras and Freni as the young lovers.

    This is a must recording for any opera lover. Great cast. Great Opera....more info

  • A true standard
    This recording is without a doubt DG's crowning achievement in their long association with La Scala. Are there relly any weaknesses? Cappuccilli has been rightly criticized for his lack of vocal coloring, but few baritones have understood Verdi as well as he, and he shows himself to be a master of the text. Freni is superb as Amelia, Ghiaurov and Van Dam wonderful as Fiesco and Paolo, and even Fioani shines in the character role of Pietro. Anyone who hasn't heard Carreras before his illness in the late 80's should listen to this to see what all the fuss was about...here he is in his his absolute prime:golden voiced, full of youth and ardor with a ringing top. All this led by the great Abaddo in glorious sound! This is surely one of the greatest and most consistant Verdi recordings to date!...more info
  • too dense and convoluted
    the plot of this story is too dense and convoluted for its 2hrs playing time. the overall structure is not bad. if you consider the prologue and the two scenes of act 1 to be separate acts, it's really a 5-act play a la shakespeare. and there are enough of subplots, plot twists, and contrasted characters to make a very good play. but it's not a play, it's an opera, which means a lot of the lines that would have been in the play are omitted and replaced by choruses, repeated sung verse, and orchestral music - ie, things that don't add to the telling of the story. what's sacrificed are things like characterization, character development, and drawing the historical backdrop. the backdrop is especially important since it explains the characters' political motivations, something you can't assume will be understood since no-one can be expected to know anything about 14th century italian city-state politics. characterization and development are also sacrificed. simon boccanegra, in particular, is given short shrift. here is a man who loses a lover, a daughter, a friend, and then finally his life, yet the overall impression you get is that he's a decent guy who was just plain unlucky. he isn't portayed as the tragic character that he should be. there isn't enough depth to his character. we don't feel his pain. and he never changes. he just moves from one tragic event to another until he finally dies. somehow i think shakespeare would have done more with this story.

    also, the musical style is a little uneven. for the most part, sb is written in the open form that verdi adopted in his other late operas, like falstaff and otello. but there are moments when it sounds like 'il trovatore' is about to break out, when you can still hear verdi's old closed-form style.

    having said all this, the music is still very enjoyable and there are moments of beauty and lyricism, like in the duet between simon and his daughter in the first act.

    good, but not a masterpiece on the order of aida or otello....more info

  • The best Verdi opera
    Right from the amazingly beautiful opening right to the end, this is masculine, sombre, wonderful music.

    On Iclassics.com, I read a review of a recording by Placido Domingo containing all the tenor arias from all of the 28 Verdi operas. Funnily enough, it said: "It has been said that Verdi did not write his best music for the tenor voice, but rather for baritone (baritones have the title roles in Rigoletto, Macbeth, Nabucco, and Simon Boccanegra)".

    I happen to agree with that opinion.

    If you, like me, is not the biggest Verdi fan on earth, please listen to this recording. Maybe it'll change your mind....more info

  • The best Boccanegra available
    This is without a doubt the best recording of this grand opera. The cast is perfect and Abbado conducts it beautifully. All the singers are in the prime years of their careers adn all do stupendously. It is also quite affordable which is a good plus, and the sound which has been remastered is great. I love this recording, you will too....more info
  • Pretty good, but not great
    Piero Cappucilli has a beautiful voice, but his expression hasalways been a bit wooden. As a result, although his Simon soundsgreat, he gives us little insight into Verdi's most complex baritonecharacter. For that you have to go to Tito Gobbi and his incomparableinterpretation on the recently rereleased EMI recording. Freni hasreceived a lot of praise for her performance here; although she's ingood voice, I find her character a bit too frantic. I prefer..., whichfor me has the right balance of calm and urgency. Nicolai Ghiaurov isvery good here as Fiesco, but Boris Christoff, again in the EMIrecording, is magnificent. Still, this recording has considerablestrengths. Carreras is outstanding as Gabriele, Claudio Abbado's tautcontrol of the score is superb, and the sound is wonderful. The dramaat the end of the Prologue and in the Council Chamber scene have neverbeen better conveyed. Here the EMI recording falls flat; Santini isinsufficiently urgent, and the sound is mediocre, with the orchestraset a bit too far backward. If you want great direction and sound, getthis version; if you want great singing/acting in the lead roles, getthe EMI. Better yet, get both....more info
  • The best opera ever. Five stars are not enough!
    I first heard this opera purely by chance one day while scanning through the radio dial in my car. It was playing on National Public Radio one morning and as soon as I heard the music I was hooked. This is the most beautiful piece of music I've ever listened to. It is amazing to me that this opera has remained so obscure to the general public. In fact, until I stumbled across it playing on the radio I had never even heard of the title. I have been a Jose Carreras fan for quite sometime and when I decided to purchase this opera on CD I deliberately searched for a version with him on it. I read several of the other reviews on Amazon before purchasing it and I have not been disappointed. The best surprise for me was when I heard the other singers on this recording. Freni is excellent. I honestly can not think of a single weak spot on this version. The entire cast is incredible and will simply blow you away. If this CD had cost me ten times more money than it did it would have still been worth every last dime. If I had to throw every CD I own away and was only allowed to keep one CD this opera would be the CD I would choose. Buy this version and you will thank me later!...more info
  • Oh Boy!
    'Simon Boccanegra' is probably my favourite Verdi opera, aside from the incomparable Falstaff. The plot is convoluted, as usual, but it has many more serious overtones than Verdi's other librettos. No other great opera composer attempted to put a statesman on stage as an opera's principal character (unless you count Tito in Mozart's 'La Clemenza'), and Verdi succeeded brilliantly. The music is among the most beautiful, serious and finely crafted that Verdi ever wrote. What it lacks in overt, heart-on-the-sleeve passion it gains in intensity, sincerity and strength. Another reason for this work's greatness is the fact that Verdi revised the piece after he had become acquainted with Boito (librettist of 'Otello' and 'Falstaff') and thus reworked parts of the score before embarking on Otello, notably the monumental, riveting Act Two finale, which clearly foreshadows elements of 'Otello' in both its musical language, intensity and drama and which contains in its second half one of the most expressive, glorious ensembles Verdi penned for any work. Also listen out for the wonderfully dramatic, almost Shakespearian, use of the chorus in this scene, and throughout the work. I find the conclusion of the work particularly moving, with great solemn chords in the orchestra funereally sounding out under a tolling bell, evoking the steady swell of the Mediterranean at night. Outstanding!

    Undoubtedly it's a great opera, and this recording is one of the best Verdi performances available. Freni conveys both beauty and passion through her dedicated reading. But then all the singers are wonderful, especially Ghiaurov and Carreras (in superlative form) but one singer holds the whole vocal performance together: Cappuccilli, perhaps the most impressive Simon on record since Tito Gobi. Abbado, predictably, conducts a wonderful studio performance recorded shortly after a successful stage production. Hence the entire enterprise gives the impression of a true theatrical experience. The sound, while not as detailed or spacious as modern DDD perhaps, is good and clear, the balance between voice and orchestra being just about right. And the off-stage cries of the rioting plebeians in Act Two, getting nearer and nearer the Council Chamber, is incredibly well-produced and effective. The Scala orchestra has Verdi in its blood, and it shows. This recording is almost perfect in every conceivable way. Magnificent music, tremendous performances, a terrific story, superb conducting...why hesitate? It should be in every Verdian's collection. It's a work of maturity, intelligence and undoubted genius and receives a performance to match....more info

  • The best opera ever. Five stars are not enough!
    I first heard this opera purely by chance one day while scanning through the radio dial in my car. It was playing on National Public Radio one morning and as soon as I heard the music I was hooked. This is the most beautiful piece of music I've ever listened to. It is amazing to me that this opera has remained so obscure to the general public. In fact, until I stumbled across it playing on the radio I had never even heard of the title. I have been a Jose Carreras fan for quite sometime and when I decided to purchase this opera on CD I deliberately searched for a version with him on it. I read several of the other reviews on Amazon before purchasing it and I have not been disappointed. The best surprise for me was when I heard the other singers on this recording. Freni is excellent. I honestly can not think of a single weak spot on this version. The entire cast is incredible and will simply blow you away. If this CD had cost me ten times more money than it did it would have still been worth every last dime. If I had to throw every CD I own away and was only allowed to keep one CD this opera would be the CD I would choose. Buy this version and you will thank me later!...more info
  • A perfect second choice...
    Overall a great recording - Abbado leads us into the world of characters caught by their intrigues. Freni is probably the best Amelia on CD with a beautifully sung aria. It still is a second choice: the perfect characterization of Simone and Fiesco still remains the couple Gobbi / Christoff....more info
  • Perfection
    An opera tends to boast, by nature, a fairly convoluted story. Figaros are suddenly recognized as Rafaellos, Pinkertons return with Kates, and Sparafuciles accidentally stab Gildas to death. However, this opera, with a strikingly poetic libretto by esteemed Verdi collaborators Francesco Maria Piave and Arrigo Boito, is singularly confusing enough to warrant a brief summary:

    The story opens in Genoa in 1339. Simon Boccanegra, a corsair, has had an affair with Maria Fiesco, daughter of Jacopo Fiesco, the leader of the patricians; this liaison produced an illegitimate child (named after her mother), whom Boccanegra ordered reared in secret on the faraway shore of Pisa by a matron named Giovanna. The opera opens with Paolo Albiani and Pietro, two plebeians, plotting how to elect a suitable doge for Genoa; the current candidate favored by the plebeians, Lorenzino, is negated by Paolo, who asserts that he has "sold himself to the Fiesci." The two come to the conclusion that Boccanegra will be the best candidate: he will be easily manipulated and willing to reward his supporters. Boccanegra is at first unwilling to place himself in the political fray and he assents only when Paolo suggests that Maria will marry him if he is elected. However, the subsequent appearance of Fiesco informs the listener that Maria has died, and the nobleman has sworn lifelong vengeance upon Boccanegra for inflicting such shame upon her. Boccanegra attempts to calm the enraged patriarch, but the latter insists that he will only forgive the former if he is allowed access to his estranged grandchild; Boccanegra then reveals the fact that Giovanna died and the young child, alone in the world, disappeared from her humble home. Fiesco coldly leaves Boccanegra in shambles; the latter enters the palace of the Fiesci, only then to discover that his beloved Maria is dead. Moments later, Paolo and Pietro announce that he has been elected doge of Genoa.

    The remainder of the opera occurs twenty-five years later. During this time, Boccanegra has eliminated most of his political enemies by exiling them and confiscating their properties and riches. Fiesco, also exiled, now lives under the pseudonym of "Andrea" and resides in the palace of the Grimaldi, his allies, outside Genoa. The Count of Grimaldi's daughter, who lived in a convent in Pisa, died some years ago; that same day, a young, wandering foundling appeared at the convent. The count, in his beleaguered grief, adopted her almost instantly. "Andrea" has acted as her guardian in recent years and has given her the name "Amelia Grimaldi," so that the riches of the noble family will not be confiscated by Boccanegra. (Fiesco does not, however, understand that "Amelia" is actually his granddaughter.) This summation will suffice; the rest of the opera is no more difficult to follow than any other.

    Claudio Abbado is unsurpassed as a Verdian conductor; with Macbeth (Shirley Verrett, Piero Cappuccilli, Nicolai Ghiaurov, and Pl¨¢cido Domingo), Don Carlo (Domingo, Katia Ricciarelli, Ruggero Raimondi, Lucia Valentini-Terrani, and Leo Nucci), Aida (Ricciarelli, Domingo, Elena Obraztsova, and Nucci), or Falstaff (Bryn Terfel and Thomas Hampson), his lyrical and clever triumphs are unsurpassed. This recording, however, is easily the greatest victory of his expansive career, regardless of the fact that it has boasted marvelous productions of every opera from Mozart to Mussorgsky to Berg; it ranks among the finest recordings of Italian opera produced, and it has been restored immaculately by Deutsche Grammophon engineers. The Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala plays with expected precision and depth. The opening sweeping, rustic strings immediately transport the listener to an Italy of yesteryear, of sun-drenched beaches, of hills carpeted in olive groves, and of imposing, shadowy, marble, Romanesque cities. The prelude to Act I, a strikingly uncharacteristic departure for Verdi, is also a distinct victory for the orchestra; it is an impressionistic musical introduction to a burgeoning dawn. One can see the pastel hues of the morning sky and smell the salty air cast up from the lapping waves; even the flowers and foliage of Maria's verdant garden, gently swaying in the wind, are vibrantly painted.

    Piero Cappuccilli brings the multi-faceted, tortured Simon Boccanegra, a helpless man used for (and eventually murdered over) politics, to life with dramatic fury that Guinness and Gielgud would find impressive. His Prologue duet with Ghiaurov ("Suona ogni labbro il mio nome" ... "Se concedermi vorrai"), in which he is pleading and genuinely distraught and the latter is coldly retaliatory and scornful, is a masterful palate of the deep male register. Conversely, he is simultaneously majestic and terrifying as he condemns Paolo in Act I ("In te resiede l'austrero dritto popolar"); the frightful damnation closes malignantly with the Genoese populace hissing "May he be accursed" ("Sia maledetto!"). Boccanegra's subsequent lament in Act II ("Doge! Ancor proveran la tua clemenza") is a brittle, despondent tapestry of doom; as he drinks from the poisoned goblet, the scene is transformed into a dreamy, almost phantasmagoric state as he plunges into a drugged slumber.

    Nicolai Ghiaurov is thunderous and appropriately hostile as the wronged and mourning father Jacopo Fiesco. His performance of "A te l'estremo addio...Il lacerato spirito," one of the most impressive arias ever conceived for the bass voice, in the Prologue, is rapturous. (The Coro del Teatro alla Scala is also successful here; the gentle, female choral intonations are pale and ghostly, but equally reverent and serene.) The sumptuous Act I duet ("Vieni a me, ti benedico") between Ghiaurov and Carreras is also superb; the Bulgarian bass is especially touching as the consenting patriarch, allowing the impassioned youth to marry his charge. Fiesco's music is classically lyrical but Gabrielle's music is strikingly antiquated and almost mystical.

    Mirella Freni is a veritable goddess as Maria, Simon Boccanegra's estranged daughter, during her oscillating Act I aria ("Come in quest'ora bruna"). Jos¨¦ Carreras is a portrait of masculine ardor as Gabrielle Adorno. His future vocal downfall and premature retirement, brought on by leukemia, is a distant thought from this endearing, astounding performance. His offstage introduction ("Cielo di stelle orbato"), set to the ecstatic, entranced plucking of harp, was a superb technical stroke of genius for Abbado; he is equally lyrically sumptuous during his Act II aria ("Sento avvampar nell'anima ... Cielo pietoso, rendila"), a hellish becoming for Boccanegra's torturous end and the subsequent lament for his supposedly wronged Maria. He and Freni, who excelled as Don Carlo and Elisabetta and (less admirably) as Aida and Radem¨¨s, are angelic as the young lovers during "Vieni a mirar la cerula," a charming duet of infatuation and "S¨¬, s¨¬, dell'ara il giubilo," a frenzied, panicked exchange as Maria begs Gabrielle to marry her and save her from the advances of the "favorite" of the Doge.

    Jos¨¦ van Dam is the consummate schemer as the rapacious, deceiving Paolo Albiani. He is a spitting cobra in his brief but poignant Act II monologue ("Me stesso ho maledetto!...Qui ti stillo una lenta"); thumping bass strings and descending woodwinds perfectly animate his diabolical mind as he drips what is certainly an inky, turbid potion into Boccanegra's carafe. Giovanni Foiani is an august, weighty Pietro, Paolo's majordomo in plotting.

    Some of the most impressive instances of the recording are the puissant Verdian ensembles. In the finale of the second scene of Act I ("Plebe! Patrizi! Popolo"), Cappuccilli is thunderous as the livid Boccanegra who shrewdly soothes his councilors by painting a pastoral panorama of the Italy conjured in the opening strains of the opera; an ensemble of the most succulent and gorgeous complexity emerges, with Freni begging for peace among fellow Italians, Ghiaurov lamenting Boccanegra's rule over Genoa, and Carreras confessing his affections for Maria. The smaller Prologue ensemble ("L'atra magion vedete?"), with van Dam cunningly turning the Genoese plebeians against the Fiesci with the opaquely mysterious, tragic tale of Boccanegra's Maria, is a marvelous meshing of a single voice with a chorus.

    However, there are two areas of the recording which are unsurpassed by any other sector: the Act I duet ("Orfanella il tetto umile" ... "Figlia!...a tal nome io palpito") between Boccanegra and Maria and the entirety of the brief third act. The former is one of those operatic duets that erupts with so much passion that one cannot help but be swept away with the characters. The ecstatic Act I exchange between Butterfly and Pinkerton and the closing conversation between Onegin and Tatyana are two comparable examples. This is also one of Verdi's most tender duets, and it is surely more endearing than the exchange between Rigoletto and Gilda. Boccanegra, who has spent much of his life in an exhaustive search for his daughter, has finally found her; Maria, who was been equally perplexed by her bleak past, has been reunited with her true father. Freni is ineffably touching as Maria, but Cappuccilli is the star here: Boccanegra is a man who has found his redemption. His suffering and searching is ended and, though he has been the doge of Genoa for nearly a quarter of a century, now he can truly be joyful. The finale, constructed upon a heart-breaking blanket of strings and the soothing voice of the harp and Cappuccilli's last ecstatic utterance of "Daughter!" ("Figlia!"), could easily melt the iciest of hearts.

    Oppositely, Act III is a pinnacle of Verdian tragedy. It is a marvelous outpouring of Italian melody and passion, from the opening choral shouts of jubilant victory to the closing moans of bereavement, accentuating by the saturnine pulse of a bass bell. Cappuccilli's bereft entrance ("M'ardon le tempia...un'atra vampa sento") recognizes that Boccanegra is a broken man, worthy of the pen of Thomas Hardy. He has been eaten from within by Paolo's vicious poison, and only the shell of the former seaman and adventurer is left. The frothy strings of the sea breeze restore, if only momentarily, his peace and health. It is once again affirmed that Boccanegra was not a politician, which adds a deeper vein to the tragedy of the story; he was a man manipulated by political corrupters onto the throne of the doge, a title he never had any desire to achieve. Ghiaurov's entrance ("Delle faci festani al barlume") is totally vindictive; Fiesco, the old, Godunovian lion, now an ancient nobleman after years of wrongdoing and hatred, has finally received the ultimate gift. Boccanegra is ruined; he is a mere shade of his former greatness and the purple of his nobility has rotted to nothing as he dies in lonesome shame. Their reconciliation ("Piango, perch¨¦ mi parla") is one of the most touching musical portraits Verdi ever penned; both, though Boccanegra has finally received the forgiveness of Fiesco, are left broken after their years of separation. One was ruined by the fiend who catapulted him to power, the other by his all-consuming revulsion for the former. Ghiaurov is unimaginably tragic and Cappuccilli is desolating in his bewildered ecstasy. The act closes with a final ensemble ("Gran Dio, li benedici"); mustering his last tremor and ounce of human strength, Boccanegra blesses the marriage of Maria and Gabriele Adorno, his former enemy. The two downcast children harken in brokenhearted agony and Fiesco bemoans aside in woe. With his last breath, Boccanegra hands his throne to Adorno and whispers the name of his only beloved, "Maria."

    It is, perhaps, a fortune in disguise that Simon Boccanegra remains the "black horse" of Verdi's later operas. No other possible recording, short of the resurrection of Boris Christoff and Jussi Bj?rling, could be comparable to this masterwork, either in musical and vocal precision or in dramatic interpretation. This is, in short, a testament to the mastery of the conductor, orchestra, and singers involved, and it can crown numerous careers as a work of Verdian perfection.
    ...more info
  • Filler
    A little too patriarchal for me. Anyway Rigoletto is much the better opera. The father figure is much more simpatico because of his physical handicap, and humiliating career choice.
    I just got this opera because a) I needed to fill out the order of the useless Bodum glass beaker replacement part I got with it, so I could get the free shipping,and b) I liked the sound of the name Simon Bocanegra...more info
  • Genoa and Verdi and Abbado...magic!
    Genoa has been in the news a lot, lately. I was there as a travelling student, once, many years ago. Soon after, I discovered this amazing recording of "Simon Boccanegra." Some Verdi operas blow it on local color; except for O Tu, Palermo," for instance, there is nothing in "I Vespri Sicilani" that screams "Sicily." Yet "Simon Boccanegra" is drenched in the air, sea and cityscape of Genoa. It is a deep, heartfelt opera. "Verdi for adults," someone called it long ago. This is not only the best "Simon" ever recorded..it is arguably the best Verdi recording ever. Carerras and Freni as the young lovers, Cappuccilli as Boccanegra, Ghiaurov as Fiesco, Van Dam as Paolo. I believe this recording got a rose in the Penguin Guide, and deeply deserves it....more info
  • A very boring opera
    The music in this opera will make you fall asleep fast.

    This opera is as overrated as La fanciulla del West and Die Frau ohne Schatten. Except for the beginning of the opera (which lasts about 30 seconds) with its beautiful notes, and Amelia's aria in Act 1, most of the rest of the music is just dull, dull, dull.

    For those of you who enjoy tuneless, boring music like Simon Boccanegra, fine. However, don't go around amazon.com proclaiming such operas to be "masterpieces". That's an insult to those of us who like more popular, more tuneful fare like Puccini and mid-period Verdi, as well as A?da (these operas have way more in the way of melodious, MEMORABLE music). The problem with Simon Boccanegra is that its music goes in one ear and out the other.

    ...more info
  • A True Verdi Masterpiece
    Ask ardent Verdi fans to name their five favorite Verdi operas, it is likely that SIMON BOCCANEGRA will be on the list. This opera contains some of Verdi's most beautiful music which is able to convey the drama of this great work. Sadly, the work is somewhat unknown. There are no show stopping arias, well known choruses, and the duets rarely are recorded or performed outside of the opera itself. The work was a failure at its premiere, and was later revised by Verdi and the great librettist/composer Arrigo Boito. The revival was somewhat successful, but the opera did not endear itself to audiences. Unfortunately, the opera is not performed as often as it probably deserves, except at major opera houses such as The Metropolitan Opera in New York where it is staged on occasion.

    The plot of the opera is grand in scope, and there are some empty spots in the libretto which does not help the work. The story contains political intrigue in fourteenth century Genoa, conflicts in love, and tangled familial relationships. While the plot may be complicated (though not convoluted as is the case of so many operas), the characters are perhaps the most compelling in all of Verdi's opera. The title character is powerful, yet flawed, and his tenderness is evident when he discovers that he has a long lost daughter Amelia. Fiesco, Boccanegra's sometimes enemy has the kindness and wisdom that come with age, though he likewise has his flaws. Gabriele, Amelia's love interest and Boccanegra's young political rival, is young and impetuous, but has personal insight which keeps him from becoming a tragic hero. Some would argue that the Verdi, who is known for his portrayal of fathers, is at his best with Boccanegra when he discovers his daughter Amelia.

    Unlike Verdi's better known operas, there is not a plethora of studio recordings of this work, but this recording under the direction of Claudio Abbado sets a high standard that would be difficult to emulate, speak less of surpassing. Each principal performer; Piero Cappuccilli as Boccanegra, Mirella Freni as Amelia, Nicolai Ghiuarov as Fiesco, Jose Carreras as Gabriele, and Jose van Dam as Paulo are in their vocal prime and are able to create the dramatic intensity through their voices that make this opera a masterpiece. The opera was recorded in conjunction with a mid-1970's production at Teatro alla Scala in Milan which gives this recording the benefit of the authenticity of a live performance and the perfection of a studio recording.

    I may never see this opera performed on stage, but when I listen to this recording, I am transported to an opera house due to the dramatic power and sheer energy of this recording. Since its re-release, it is now a mid-priced recording, which makes it even more of a bargain....more info

 

 
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