by Rachel Beaumont

latest archive about contact

Under-stonked: Simon Boccanegra at the ROH

Simon Boccanegra
Royal Opera
Royal Opera House
Balcony D30 standing, £12
27 November 2018
ROH page

Without stonking singers, what is Simon Boccanegra? Perhaps not so different from many operas, this evening felt nevertheless particularly painfully dependent on performers who could enter the frame Verdi sets for them and shine the hell out of it. Why painful? Because the two leads in this in are seriously under-stonked.

Hrachuhi Bassenz is now something of an ROH regular and I’ve heard her recently as Donna Elvira; while she’d never be my favourite I didn’t have too much to complain about. Not this time. Her first aria was like lifting a spoon to your mouth expecting lime granita and getting suet pudding: the music demands spin and dazzle that Bassenz just can’t provide. While she improved after this first demoralizing entry, the music never received the star power it needs to survive.

Verdi was hollowed out further in the casting of Carlo Álvarez in the title role. Álvarez has a beautiful voice and I will seek him out in recital; but in this role, in this venue, with the tenor and bass he has to contend with, he is absurdly quiet. I was wondering whether you could argue for a Boccanegra who is reticent and gentle – but then, Verdi’s music and the wretched story get in the way. As when Plácido Domingo sings Verdi baritones, as with Bassenz, the music stops making sense when the singer is not strong where they need to be.

These two performances, plus going-through-the-motions, error-ridden playing from the orchestra under Henrik Nánási, put a kibosh on how much I enjoyed Simon Boccanegra – which is a little mean of me, as there were delights to be had in the performance of Francesco Meli as Adorno, and fabulous riches in that of Ferruccio Furlanetto as Fiesco. I’ve often felt ambivalent about Meli, his sound sometimes lacking depth and his stage presence stilted, and his unpromising Act I performance only added to my glower at the interval. But he sang fabulously in the second half, producing a loudness whose musical glory overcame its lack of beauty.

Of Furlanetto, I’ll confess to having been disappointed in his Philip II in Don Carlo, his obviously once-majestic voice drifting unacceptably flat. Fiesco must be the perfect part for him at the moment, as while the odd note landed too southerly this was otherwise a tour-de-force: a true operatic presence, his voice with such integrity, his dramatic presence stealing all attention. Not that he had much competition. But having wondered what the Furlanetto fuss was all about, I feel finally I’ve found it: simply, he is a truly great opera singer. If only he had more to do in this opera.

No comments yet.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

<< The naked ear: Arditti Quartet and Paul Cannon at the WIgmore Hall

Buoyed up, weighed down: The Nutcracker at the ROH >>