About this Recording
8.110119-20 - VERDI, G.: Simon Boccanegra (Gobbi, Christoff, los Angeles, Santini) (1957)
English 

Giuseppe Verdi (1813–1901):
Simon Boccanegra

 

Simon Boccanegra - Tito Gobbi (baritone)
Jacopo Fiesco / Andrea - Boris Christoff (bass)
Amelia Grimaldi / Maria Boccanegra - Victoria de los Angeles (soprano)
Gabriele Adorno - Giuseppe Campora (tenor)
Paolo Albiani - Walter Monachesi (bass)
Pietro - Paolo Dari (baritone)
Captain of the Crossbowmen - Paolo Caroli (tenor)
Amelia’s Maidservant - Silvia Bertona (mezzo-soprano)


The first version of Simon Boccanegra comes between Les vêpres siciliennes and Aroldo. The text by Francesco Maria Piave, set in the form of a prologue and three acts, is based on the drama by Antonío Garcia Gutiérrez who had earlier been the source for Il trovatore. Verdi had prepared a prose version of the drama, which he sent to Piave sometime in August 1856. Also immediately Piave sent it to the directors of the Teatro La Fenice in Venice to obtain their acceptance and that of the Venetian police. The theatre authorities returned the draft to Piave saying that the ‘scenario in prose’ was unacceptable on the grounds that it was considered a substitute for a ‘libretto in verse’. Verdi was given the extension of a further month to produce what was required. On 1 October Piave forwarded the draft libretto to the Venetian theatre for their comments and those of the police. Verdi then spent a period of time in Paris between November 1856 and January 1857 for a variety of reasons. While there he sought the help of the exiled Italian patriot Giuseppe Montanelli to assist with various reworkings of the libretto. While Piave may have been unhappy about a third hand working on the text he was busily employed on other projects at the time. The first performance at the Teatro La Fenice, Venice, on 12 March 1857 was deemed a failure: it was felt that the Milanese or Roman audience would have better appreciated the felicities of the score on a first hearing. It was rumoured, although never proved, that various Jewish factions, led by the composer Samuele Levi, had planned opposition to the opera. The Milanese première in February 1859, however, was a serious failure. Even the composer himself later referred to this first version as ‘cold and monotonous’.

After the success of Aïda and the Messa da Requiem in the 1870s, Verdi had in his mind an opera based on Shakespeare’s Othello. In this he was to work with Arrigo Boito (the composer of La Gioconda) but in this instance as librettist. Verdi was keen to revise Boccanegra and employed Boito to assist him. The revision, while a considerable improvement in terms of the music, stopped short of clarification of the plot. Boito’s main contribution was the inclusion of an entirely new scene in Act 1 with the introduction of the Council Scene which became the centrepiece of the opera.

The revised version was first heard at the Teatro alla Scala, Milan on 24 March 1881 with Victor Maurel (later the first Iago) in the title-rôle, Francesco Tamagno (the first Otello) as Gabriele Adorno, Edouard de Reszke as Fiesco and D’Angeri as Maria/Amelia. The revision proved to be a success but the opera failed to gain international recognition. The American première did not take place until 1932, the British not until 1948 (in English), and the Covent Garden one not until 1965 when Tito Gobbi both sang the title-rôle and directed the production.

The opera makes considerable demands of its interpreters. Boccanegra is by turns nostalgic, resigned, imperious (particularly in the Council Scene) and regretful. His enemy Fiesco is dark, moody, gloomy but heartful in his big aria “Il lacerato spirito”, in which he laments the death of his dead daughter. The tenor rôle of Gabriele Adorno, while not to the forefront, is important as is that of the dark Paolo. The part of Maria/Amelia demands singing of the highest quality as well as sympathetic portrayal.

This recording of Simon Boccanegra , made in 1957, was quite an enterprising choice for its time as the opera was little known in Britain, although it had been seen on a number of occasions at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York. It is also true that the opera featured in the complete cycle of recordings, some of which are now believed to have been made under studio conditions and not live, as previously assumed, which Italian Radio undertook in 1951 to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the composer’s death. The studio recordings, including

Simon Boccanegra, were subsequently released on disc by CETRA. From EMI’s point of view it marked a change of producer in that Victor Olof (formerly of Decca) had joined the Company as a producer the previous year. He was widely respected and had undertaken the supervision of a considerable number of complete operas for his former employer. He was assisted by the highly experienced engineer Harold Davidson, who had been assigned operas in Rome from 1954. EMI, however, unlike Decca, continued to record in mono sound only, but 1957 marked the last occasion that operas were recorded in that manner. Simon Boccanegra was an opera greatly admired by Tito Gobbi and the resultant recording proved one of his finest performances in the recording studio. He was joined by his brother-in-law Boris Christoff as Fiesco and Victoria de los Angeles as Boccanegra’s long lost daughter Maria/Amelia. The tenor part was assigned to the Italian singer Giuseppe Campora, who had become know in the United States through his appearance at the Metropolitan in New York.

When this recording first appeared in December 1958 the reviewer in The Gramophone commented: ‘Gobbi is…a masterly singing-actor and here he has one of his greatest rôles, one that deploys his full range as a singing tragedian. Christoff adds a dimension of every view of Fiesco [sic]. Victoria de los Angeles is an inspired choice for the girlish, ardent heroine, and has so much glorious music to sing’. The contribution of the conductor Gabriele Santini ‘gives a momentous, carefully paced and constantly illuminating reading of the score’.

Originally planning to be a lawyer and studying at Padua University, the baritone Tito Gobbi (1913–1984) was born at Bassano del Grappa. He then changed to singing, studying with Giulio Crimi. His début took place at Gubbio, when he sang the bass rôle of Conte Rodolfo in La sonnambula in 1935. The following year he won first prize in an international competition held in Vienna that resulted in his Rome début at the Teatro Adriano as Giorgio Germont in La traviata in 1939. He made his La Scala début in April 1942 as Belcore in L’elisir d’amore. He sang the titlerôle in Berg’s Wozzeck in Rome the same year to great acclaim. Gobbi’s first appearance in the United States was as Figaro in Rossini’s opera at San Francisco in 1948. He then appeared at the 1950 Salzburg Festival as Don Giovanni, before making his first stage appearance in Britain with the visiting La Scala company at Covent Garden as Belcore and Ford. He later became a regular guest at this house, singing Renato, Iago, Scarpia, Rigoletto, Gianni Schicchi, Rodrigo, Falstaff and Boccanegra over the next twenty years. He sang at the Chicago Lyric Opera for ten seasons from 1954. His appearances were more irregular at the Metropolitan in New York where he sang between 1956 and 1976, his rôles there including Scarpia, Iago, Rigoletto and Falstaff. In the early part of his career he had appeared in a number of films and after retiring from singing became a stage producer to considerable acclaim in addition to giving masterclasses. Gobbi was a superb singing actor who created many memorable characterisations both on stage and for recording, especially in the Verdian rôles. He can also be found in many operas which Maria Callas recorded during the 1950s in addition to Don Carlo (Naxos 8.111132-34) and Madama Butterfly (Naxos 8.111291-92).

The Bulgarian bass Boris Christoff (1914–1993) was born in Plovdiv. He sang in the celebrated Gusla Choir before being helped by King Boris with funds to study in Rome with Riccardo Stracciari, later studying in Salzburg. His delayed début took place in a concert in Rome in 1946, before stage appearances as Colline in La bohème. He was engaged by La Scala the following June as Pimen in Boris Godunov, and in 1949 he sang the title-rôle at Covent Garden, where he would appear regularly for the next quarter century. His Metropolitan début was cancelled in 1950 because of his Bulgarian nationality and it was a further six years before he sang in San Francisco and later Chicago (1957–63). He sang at the 1949 Salzburg Festival under Karajan in Beethoven’s Choral Symphony and the Verdi Requiem. His first stage appearance there was in Don Carlo in 1960. Christoff sang widely throughout Europe for over thirty years in mainly Russian and Italian (especially in Verdi) parts in addition to Hagen, Gurnemanz and King Marke. His voice, though not large, was smooth, round and well projected. He possessed great dramatic powers and was a very compelling singing actor. He can be heard in Aïda (Naxos 8.111042-44) and Don Carlo (Naxos 8.111132-34).

The Spanish soprano Victoria de los Angeles (1923–2005) was born in Barcelona and later studied in that city. Her formal début was in 1945 as the Countess in Le nozze di Figaro. After winning the Geneva International Singing Competition in 1947 she was invited the following year by the BBC in London to take part in studio broadcast performances of Falla’s, La vida breve, an event which aroused great interest and much critical acclaim. She then appeared at the Paris Opéra, Covent Garden in London, La Scala in Milan and the Metropolitan, New York, in three successive years from 1949 onwards. She later sang at Bayreuth in 1961 but thereafter began to confine her appearances to the concert hall. Her voice was one of great lyrical beauty and conveyed infinite tonal contrasts with an unusually warm lower register. She recorded extensively in both opera and song, particularly in the latter area, Spanish music of many centuries. She continued to appear in concert until her mid-sixties. She can be heard as Nedda in Pagliacci (Naxos 8.110258), Madama Butterfly (Naxos 8.111291-92) and La bohème (Naxos 8.111249-50).

The tenor Giuseppe Campora (1923–2004) was born in Tortona and made his début as Rodolfo in La bohème in Bari in 1949. Four years later he sang Maurizio in Adriana Lecouvreur opposite Renata Tebaldi at the Teatro alla Scala. He also sang in an Italian-made filmed version of Aïda made late that year with Sophia Loren acting the title-rôle. His American début was as Rodolfo at the Metropolitan in New York in 1954. He also sang Edgardo opposite the Lucia of Maria Callas in the same house. He returned to La Scala in 1958, again as Maurizio, and during the following seasons sang Rodolfo, Pinkerton, Orombello in Beatrice di Tenda opposite Joan Sutherland, concluding with Pinkerton in 1972. He continued to appear in the United States, mainly in Philadelphia during the 1960s and 1970s. After retiring from the stage he taught singing.

The baritone Walter Monachesi was born in Macerata in 1922 and was taught singing by Gino Berardi. He sang the rôle of Paolo in Simon Boccanegra in the 1951 RAI broadcast performance and during the following year sang in Parma as Giorgio Germont and Marcello (La bohème), with Silvano in Un ballo in maschera at La Scala in 1956. He also sang Marcello during the centenary celebration of Puccini’s birth at Torre del Lago. He continued to appear in Italy until the late 1970s.

The conductor Gabriele Santini (1886–1964) was born in Perugia, where he undertook his musical studies before continuing at Bologna Conservatorio. He made his conducting début in 1906 but soon moved to South America where he was employed at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires for eight seasons before appearing in Rio de Janeiro and Chicago. He then assisted Toscanini at La Scala in Milan between 1925 and 1929, conducting Aïda, Madama Butterfly, Der Freischütz, Carmen, Gianni Schicchi, Tosca and Il tabarro. He then worked at the Opera in Rome during the years 1929–33. He returned to La Scala in 1934 to conduct eight operas during the year. Santini conducted the première of Mascagni’s Il re in Rome in 1930. He returned to La Scala in 1943 to conduct La Wally. He was music and artistic director of the Rome Opera between 1944 and 1948 and then was music director until 1962. He directed the première of Alfano’s Dottor Antonio in Rome in 1949, in addition to conducting the first Italian performances of L’heure espagnole (Rome, 1929) and Milhaud’s Christophe Colomb(Rome, 1954). Santini recorded a number of complete operas between the years 1952 and 1964. Sadly he collapsed during a recording of Tosca in 1964, which resulted in the project being aborted. Santini died in November that same year in Rome. He was the conductor of Don Carlo (Naxos 8.111132-34).

Malcolm Walker

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Synopsis

CD 1

Prologue

[1] The scene is a piazza in fourteenth-century Genoa. In the background is the Church of San Lorenzo, on the right the Fieschi Palace, with its great balcony, by the side of which, in the wall, is a statue of the Madonna, with a lamp burning before it. There are other houses and various streets leading into the piazza. It is night.

[2] As the curtain rises Pietro and Paolo Albiani, leading plebeians, are talking, discussing the election of a new Doge. Pietro suggests that Lorenzino should be chosen by the people, but Paolo prefers the man who has cleared the sea of pirates, the corsair Boccanegra, whom Pietro, in return for money and honours, will support. Left alone, Paolo eagerly awaits the downfall of the patricians. He is joined by Boccanegra, whom he has summoned to Genoa, and offers him election as plebeian candidate for the position of Doge. Maria, daughter of the patrician Fiesco, has borne Boccanegra a daughter, but their relationship has been impossible under the patrician rule of her father. They move apart, as the sound of people approaching is heard.

[3] Sailors and workmen come in, accompanied by Pietro, telling them how they must vote. Paolo comes forward, declaring Simon Boccanegra, the corsair, the popular candidate.

[4] He gathers the people around him to explain how the Fieschi keep the beautiful Maria prisoner in their gloomy palace, exciting their prejudice and winning their support for Boccanegra. They disperse.

[5] Fiesco comes out of the palace, mourning the death of his beloved daughter Maria.

[6] He inveighs against her seducer, Boccanegra, while the voices of mourners are heard from within the palace. Various people leave the palace and solemnly make their way.

[7]Simon Boccanegra returns to the piazza, exultant at his popular success and hoping to be united with Maria. Fiesco accuses him and calls down the vengeance of heaven upon him. Boccanegra tries to placate him, addressing him as father and offering even his life, if Fiesco will take it.

[8] Boccanegra tells Fiesco of Maria’s daughter, left with an old woman who, on Boccanegra’s return, was found to have died and the child to have disappeared. Fiesco remains an implacable enemy, only to forgive, if he can see his grand-daughter. He makes to go, stopping, unseen, to watch Boccanegra.

[9] Boccanegra expresses his hatred for the Fieschi, wondering how such beauty as Maria’s could have appeared among them. He approaches the palace doors and knocks. To his surprise he finds the doors open and he goes in, appearing on the balcony to express his mystification at the palace, in darkness and seemingly deserted. He takes the lamp from the statue of the Virgin and goes in again, calling for Maria, while Fiesco, observing him, anticipates Boccanegra’s punishment. Voices are heard calling his name and Paolo and Pietro, with their following of workmen and sailors, excitedly enter the piazza, acclaiming Boccanegra as Doge, to the anger of Fiesco, while Boccanegra discovers, in the palace, the fate of Maria.

Act 1

Scene 1

[10] 25 years have passed. The instrumental introduction sets the scene, in the garden of the Grimaldi outside Genoa. To the left is the palace, facing the sea. It is dawn.

[11] Amelia Grimaldi comes in, looking towards the sea and admiring the beauty of the place and recalling her childhood and the night when the woman looking after her died.

[12] She hears the voice of her lover, Gabriele, from the distance, as he approaches. Entering the garden, he greets her, apologising for his delay. She has been afraid for him and for Andrea, the disguised Fiesco, whom she loves as a father, as they have been plotting against the Doge, together with Lorenzino and the others.

[13] They pause for a moment, to wonder at the beauty of the sea around Genoa, not forgetting their enemies in the city.

[14] They are interrupted by a servant announcing a messenger from the Doge. Pietro enters, bringing news that the Doge, returning from hunting, wishes to stay at the palace. She knows that the Doge, Boccanegra, is seeking her marriage with Paolo. Amelia urges Gabriele to seek permission from her guardian during Grimaldi’s enforced exile, Andrea, for immediate marriage. The lovers pledge their loyalty to each other. Amelia goes into the palace and Gabriele is about to leave, when he meets Andrea.

[15] The appearance of Andrea is opportune and Gabriele at once seeks his permission to marry Amelia. Andrea, however, reveals Amelia’s apparently humble origins, adopted by the Grimaldi on the death of their own daughter.

[16] Gabriele is undeterred and Andrea gives him his blessing.

[17] The approach of the Doge is heard and Gabriele and Andrea take their departure, the latter glad at the coming day of vengeance. Amelia and her attendants come out to receive Boccanegra, who now appears, attended by Paolo and a following of huntsmen. The women and Boccanegra’s followers withdraw, leaving the Doge and Amelia alone. He tells her of his offer of pardon to the Grimaldi.

[18] Boccanegra asks why she hides her beauty in this seclusion. Amelia tells him that she has a lover and finds the name of Paolo, as Boccanegra suggests, repulsive to her.

[19] She goes on to reveal to the Doge that she is not a Grimaldi but was left an orphan in Pisa. Boccanegra now hopes that he has at last found his daughter.

[20] In answer to his question, she remembers a visitor from the sea and the name of the woman who cared for her. He takes out a miniature of her and is now certain that she is his daughter, Maria.

[21] They are both overjoyed at the discovery. They embrace and she goes into the palace, leaving her father still overwhelmed by what he has learned.

[22] Paolo hurries in and asks the Doge what Amelia’s answer has been to his proposal of marriage. As he goes out, Boccanegra tells him to give up any idea of such a match. Paolo is angry at this ingratitude. He is joined by Pietro and with him plots to abduct the girl.


CD 2

Act 1

Scene 2

[1] The scene is now the council chamber in the Doge’s palace. Boccanegra is seated, with twelve councillors from the nobility to one side and twelve plebeian councillors to the other. There are also four consuls of the sea and constables. Paolo and Pietro are on the last seats of the plebeian representatives. The herald announces tribute and messages of peace from the King of Tartary. The Doge reads out a message from Petrarch urging peace between Genoa and Venice, to which Paolo foments opposition.

[2] Shouts are heard from outside. The disturbance is watched from the window by Paolo and Pietro, and Boccanegra too looks out to see that the crowd are pursuing Gabriele Adorno. Pietro, in an aside, tells Paolo to make his escape, since they are discovered. They are observed by Boccanegra, who orders none to leave. There is discord in the council chamber, as the plebeians call for the death of the nobles, who draw their swords, and the plebeians then do likewise, before there are shouts against the Doge himself, who orders the doors of the palace to be opened to the people. The herald’s trumpet quietens the mob, who have dragged in Gabriele and Andrea. Gabriele has killed Lorenzino, Pietro’s accomplice in the abduction of Amelia, and as he died he had implicated Boccanegra, whom Gabriele now accuses and would kill, but for the intervention of Amelia, who now enters. The Doge asks Amelia what happened.

[3] She tells him how she was abducted by Lorenzino’s men. Before she can reveal the name of the instigator of the plot, the factions break out in recrimination, one of the other.

[4] The tumult is quelled again by Boccanegra.

[5] Gabriele surrenders his sword to Boccanegra, who tells him he will be detained, until the matter is cleared up. The Doge turns to Paolo, whose guilt he well knows, and forces him to join in cursing the villain behind the plot, a curse in which all join.

Act 2

[6] Paolo and Pietro are together in a room in the Doge’s palace. Paolo sees himself rejected by all, cursed, but determines to take revenge on Boccanegra, through poison and the dagger, as he empties a vial of poison into a jug of water on the table.

[7] Fiesco and Gabriele Adorno are led in by Pietro and Paolo tries to induce Fiesco to murder the Doge as he sleeps, a proposal he proudly rejects.

[8] He goes and Gabriele makes to follow him, but is held back by Paolo, who tells him that Amelia is in the palace, mistress of Boccanegra.

[9] Paolo hurries out, leaving Gabriele appalled at what he has heard: Boccanegra has killed his father, stolen his beloved Amelia. He is inflamed by jealousy and calls on God to pity his suffering. He begs Heaven to give him Amelia again and that she remains his, in her purity.

[10] Amelia comes into the room, surprised to find Gabriele there.

[11] He is anxious to learn the reason for her presence, accusing her of faithlessness. She rejects his charges but cannot give a fuller explanation.

[12] The Doge is heard approaching and she tells Gabriele to hide, begging him with increasing urgency, while he still vows death on Boccanegra. Eventually he hides on the balcony.

[13] The Doge enters, reading a paper, and addressing her as daughter, and she him as father. She tells him the name of her lover, Adorno, his enemy, his name written on the paper he holds, listing those conspiring against him. He cannot pardon Gabriele, in spite of Amelia’s pleas. Boccanegra is in despair, having found his daughter only to have her stolen by his enemy. He tells her to go, although she wants to watch by his side.

[14] He must exercise clemency, unless it is weakness that motivates him. He pours the water Paolo has poisoned into a cup and drinks, ironically finding water sometimes bitter to the lips of one who rules. He sits down and in a moment is overtaken by sleep, calling on the name of Amelia.

[15] Gabriele steals in from the balcony, held back from murdering the Doge either by respect or fear. He draws his dagger and is about to strike the sleeping man, when Amelia intervenes. The Doge wakens and sees Gabriele about to murder him, a defenceless victim. He asks who opened the palace doors to him and threatens Gabriele with torture, to reveal the name of the traitor. Now deprived of his dearest possession, his daughter, ample revenge for Gabriele, he reveals himself as Amelia’s father.

[16] Gabriele begs Amelia’s forgiveness and offers his life to Boccanegra, as a would-be murderer. As Gabriele pleads for death and Amelia is moved by his great love, Boccanegra forgives him, seeking to heal old enmities.

[17] Shouts are heard outside and calls to arms, the start of the rebellion against the Doge, who bids Gabriele join his friends. The latter demurs, now loyal to Boccanegra and rewarded with the hand of Amelia.

Act 3

[18] From the Doge’s palace Genoa can be seen, illuminated as for a festival. The shouts of the crowd are heard, praising the Doge.

[19] A captain of the bowmen gives Fiesco back his sword and tells him he is free. Asked about the rest of the Guelph faction, he tells him that they have been defeated. Paolo is brought in, under guard, condemned to torture and death. He tells Fiesco that Boccanegra too will die, poisoned by him, and to his horror hears the sound of wedding celebrations for Amelia and Gabriele. Paolo further appals Fiesco by declaring his responsibility for the abduction of Amelia. In anger Fiesco draws his sword, but then desists, as Paolo is destined for a worse fate. The guards drag him away. Fiesco resolves that the search for revenge is not ended yet and, as the Doge approaches, hides himself in the shadows.

[20] The captain enters, with a trumpeter, and announces to the people that, by command of the Doge, lights should be extinguished, in honour of the dead.

[21] Boccanegra enters, feverish and suffering the effects of poison, cooled by the sea breeze. The sea reminds him of his former life and there he would happily have died. Fiesco emerges, threatening a better death. Boccanegra calls for his guards, but no-one comes.

[22] Fiesco reveals himself as the Doge’s old enemy, whom he had thought dead.

[23] He returns, as a ghost, to avenge outrage. The lights begin to go out in the piazza outside. Boccanegra, however, is relieved at Fiesco’s appearance and can announce peace between them. He tells him that his own daughter and Fiesco’s grand-daughter is Amelia Grimaldi.

[24] Fiesco weeps at the revelation. He hears in Boccanegra’s words the voice of Heaven. Boccanegra seeks to embrace him, the father of his beloved Maria. Fiesco tells Boccanegra of the poison. The latter is growing weaker and collapses onto a seat, as Amelia, Gabriele, ladies, gentlemen, senators and pages with torches come in.

[25] Amelia is surprised to see Fiesco, whom she has known as Andrea, but Boccanegra now reveals the latter as the father of Amelia’s mother, Maria. Amelia rejoices at the end of old enmities, but Boccanegra tells her that everything is coming to an end and that he is dying. With Gabriele she kneels at his feet. He rises, lays his hands on their heads and raises his eyes to Heaven.

[26] He calls for God’s blessing on them. Amelia pleads with him not to die and Gabriele joins her in lamenting the swift passing of happiness. Boccanegra bids her embrace him, as he dies.

[27] Turning to the senators, he commands them to make Gabriele Adorno the next Doge. His voice fails and he can say no more, but stretches his hands out over Amelia and Gabriele, as he dies. Fulfilling his final command, Fiesco calls on the people of Genoa to acclaim their new Doge, Gabriele Adorno, and to pray for the one who has died.


Keith Anderson

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Great Opera Recordings

Giuseppe VERDI (1813–1901)
Simon Boccanegra
Recorded 25–30 September and 1 November 1957 in the Opera House, Rome
First issued on HMV ALP 1634 through 1636

Rome Opera House Chorus and Orchestra (Chorus Director: Giuseppe Conca)
Gabriele Santini

Reissue Producer and Audio Restoration Engineer: Mark Obert-Thorn


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