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Chris Mullins
Opera Today, January 2011

VERDI, G.: Simon Boccanegra (Teatro Comunale di Bologna, 2007) (NTSC) 101307
VERDI, G.: Simon Boccanegra (Teatro Comunale di Bologna, 2007) (Blu-ray, Full-HD) 101308

This beautifully realized production of Verdi’s somber masterpiece of political intrigue and father/daughter reconciliation could be a complete success except for one missing element—memorable singing.

The conducting of youthful Michele Mariotti finds all the pathos, beauty and drama of Simon Boccanegra’s score. Guido Fiorate provides both the traditional, beautifully detailed costumes and a brilliantly constructed abstract set. Where pertinent, an expansive background of blue suggests the sea. The winding streets of the town, suggestive of the labyrinthine politics, find shape in shifting walls of black and white stripes. Director Giorgio Gallione mostly avoids clichéd gestures, and with the best performers in the show, he prompts some fine stage acting.

Ultimately, however, the effect of all this accomplishment is muted by too much ordinary signing in principal roles. Right at the top, Roberto Frontali as the title character can only sing with satisfactory control at higher volume. He rarely attempts softer signing, and as the role proceeds, his tone loosens. In the key role of the Amelia, the daughter long lost to Boccanegra, Carmen Giannattasio comes on stage with what is arguably the opera’s best-known aria, a gorgeous set-piece that she mars with surprisingly mature tone (she is quite youthful and attractive). Later her voice settles somewhat but she is never able to offer anything distinctive in the role. Callow and routine, tenor Giuseppe Gipali sings the role of Amelia’s love interest, completing a trio of leads whose lack of energy and imagination drains much potential drama from the production.

There are two worthy performers. As Boccanegra’s rival, Giacomo Prestia avoids villainous cliché, retaining a sense of wounded dignity. The voice is more than dark and solid enough to impress as well. Marco Vratogna takes the smaller role of the scheming conspirator Paolo Albiani and steals every scene he is in. His is not the handsomest of voices, but it has real body, and he is a committed actor with a strong stage presence. Part of that presence is his handsome shaved head, which allows, in frequent close-ups, views of the mics used these days for optimal audio recording. If a viewer looks closely, other such mics can be seen in other performer’s hair/wigs. It’s unfortunate that in order to film the production with top quality sounds, the visual element has to be compromised with these mics. But that’s how it is.

Filmed versions of this opera don’t pop up all that frequently. Presumably the Metropolitan Opera will soon make available its recent HD movie-cast version, with Placido Domingo taking on the title role. He has more conviction than Frontali, and a more beautiful voice, but whether his is a voice appropriate for the role remains highly controversial. The rest of the Metropolitan cast is not particularly special, and the production is heavy and dark. So this Bologna version of Simon Boccanegra would be the DVD to beat, if only the singing were consistently effective.

American Record Guide, December 2008

This 2007 production from Bologna is a gem in both artistic measure and staging. The cast is well balanced. Baritones Frontali and Prestia are in mid-career and have strong male tessitura, while the tenor Gipali seems to be straining sometimes. The only female, Carmen Giannattasio, has an attractive lyric soprano with youthful flexibility and range. Her duet with Frontali is beautifully etched (‘Figlia’), setting the stage for the ensembles that follow one another to the end. All the principals act quite well—a necessity when most of the action is declamation in a largely male milieu. The staging and costumes are superb and fit with the time and place of the opera.

The recording is in HD with excellent SD+ mastering for this disc. The sets make no attempt to replicate the 1400s, but neither do they default to minimalism. The production uses dark colors and bold imaginary structures (mosaic floor, unadorned marble walls, layered suggestion of the ocean in blue and black) to complement the basic costume colors. These are all believable without overwhelming you with opulence in the Met’s (until recent) style. The audio sounds the best using the LPCM track; the German engineers who did the mastering created a virtual center channel that resulted in a believable audio image for both soloists and orchestra. This combined with video images sweep me up in the music and stage action. The young (28) conductor, recently appointed to fill Gatti’s place, does not hesitate to interpret the score a bit while offering plenty of guidance to singers and actors. This Simon Boccanegra is what I think good production values should strive for with today’s technology and vocal art.

Lynn René Bayley
Fanfare, November 2008

[Carmen Giannattasio] has one of those fruity, full-bodied Italian lyric voices I haven’t heard since the days of Gabriella Tucci and Adriana Maliponte. She has perfect vocal control. She can float a note, expand the tone with thrilling effect, and bind her phrases with the mastery of a Leontyne Price or a Mirella Freni. She is a fine actress. She floats across the stage like a dream.

Then our Gabriele, Giuseppe Gipali, entered. What a surprise! A real Italian tenor voice—bright as a new penny, steady as a laser beam, but also musically phrased and dramatically expressive. I liked it immediately, even though Gipali, too, is of the “wave the right arm across the body to show emotion” school of acting. This man should be snapped up by the Met ASAP. Even if they don’t think him “star” quality, he can sing rings around the standard “Italian” tenors we get at the New York house nowadays. His duets with Giannattasio are the highlights of this performance.

…Mariotti is a simply exceptional maestro, binding the phrases and scenes of this opera as few others in my experience have done. Indeed, even when the singing got dicey, it was a consistent pleasure to listen to Mariotti conduct the orchestra. And how well the Bologna forces play! I’ll be darned if I know when Italian opera orchestras made the quantum leap forward from “provincial” competence to first-class virtuosity, but it’s at a point now when I can virtually count on even the least well-known opera house in Europe to produce absolutely first-rate orchestral playing. © 2008 Fanfare Read complete review

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