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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.

Lawrence Devoe, September 2010

The Performance

Verdi’s middle period operas are often shortchanged because of the popularity of his later works like Aida. Simon Boccanegra is a Verdi masterpiece despite its complex plot. Its father-daughter relationship presages that of Rigoletto, La Traviata and Aida.  The story centers on Simon Boccanegra, a corsair who becomes Doge of Genoa, his daughter Amelia, her grandfather Fiesco, and her lover, Gabriele.  As the plot evolves,  Simon and Ameila, who have been separated for years, are reunited and embrace the future son-in-law, Gabriele. Simon becomes a capable ruler but eventually falls victim to a pair of disgruntled courtiers who conspire to posion him.  On his death, he reconciles with his old enemy Fiesco, the warring factions of Genoa are united and peace is restored.

This production succeeds on a number of grounds. The protagonists appear age-appropriate to their parts, given a 20 year hiatus between the prologue and the remaining three acts. Roberto Frontali is the most convincing Boccanegra that I have seen since the late Tito Gobbi (whom he strongly resembles).  Frontali sings rather than barks his role to powerful effect.  While the parts of Amelia  and Gabriele, undertaken by Carmen Giannattasio and Giuseppe  Gispaldi, respectively, will not erase memories of Kiri Te Kanawa and Placido Domingo, they are believable as young lovers. Giacomo Prestia conveys the complex character Fiesco convincingly albeit with a lighter weight bass than is usually cast in this role. Marco Vratogna’ s Paolo the villainous courtier who poisons Simon,  exudes sufficient evil to make you cheer when he is led off to execution in the final act.  The real hero of this performance is Michele Mariotti who conducts the well seasoned forces of the Teatro Communale di Bologna. There is a sense of Verdian tension and pace as well as respect for the challenging vocal roles.

Video Quality

Except for the beginning of Act I, nearly all productions of this opera are dark and this one is no exception. The minimalist sets take some getting used to but the overall staging of Guido Fiorato actually works quite well and does not clash with the handsome period costumes. Given the closeness of the camera work, the modern sets do not get in the way of the drama and intensity of the singers. This is a 1080i video which becomes noticeable only on the close-ups...The blue lighting underscores the somber nature of this opera.

Audio Quality

The sound track is dts-Master HD with the music spread across the front speakers. To this degree it is true to what one would hear in a real opera house. The balance between singers and orchestra  is superb. I did note that the singers appear to be head-miked but this was not a distraction and certainly did not impair the vocal recording which is high quality...The Italian audience is surprisingly restrained but cuts loose with pent-up and well-deserved rhythmic applause at the final curtain.

Supplemental Materials

There are no supplemental materials relevant to this opera, simply trailers for other Arthaus Musik videos.

The Definitive Word


There are no BD contenders for this opera...Overall, this performance is very competitive and engaging. Hopefully, we will see more of these principals and Maestro Mariotti who is a true rising star on the operatic scene.

Jeffrey Kauffman, September 2010

This is an often beautiful performance from the Teatro Comunale di Bologna, featuring an almost all Italian cast, certainly a plus when it comes to performing Verdi. With a largely minimalist set, the focus is squarely on the singing, and for the most part, the leads deliver. Frontali is a Verdi baritone in the best sense, lush and full, if sometimes a little lacking in nuance. Giannattasio is a quite commanding lyric soprano with a gorgeous higher register which never broadens into a screech. Giuseppe Gipali as Adorno delivers the tenor side of the equation with appealing liquidity and an assured tone...Giacomo Prestia’s Fiesco...has the natural gravitas of a bass...Dramatically, he’s quite apt.

The young conductor Michele Mariotti marshals his forces quite admirably in this production, leading the orchestra through that positively Brahmsian Prologue in E major with passion and grace. He also elicits a good deal of fire from an orchestra and chorus that frankly could have sounded more provincial under a less able baton. Though Simon Boccanegra has perhaps oddly never received a lot of acclaim, possibly because it pales in comparison to some of Verdi’s more iconic pieces, the fact is the opera reveals the composer in top form, albeit one where he tends to work more organically, instead of segueing from aria to recitative. While that may have thrown his 19th century audiences for a bit of a loop, it reveals a prescient artist who was attempting to stretch the bounds of his art, however subtly at times.

Simon Boccanegra arrives on Blu-ray from ArtHaus Musik with a very strong AVC encoded 1080i “live” transfer in 1.78:1. The first thing you will notice about this production is how it is literally bathed in blue almost all of time. Absolutely gorgeous, but strangely never cold or icy, blue tones fill the stage for virtually the entire opera. The Prologue especially revels in this end of the spectrum, with low blue lighting accenting the emotional turmoil which is being set up for the rest of the piece. The sets are quite striking, if minimal, and include a slightly raked, mosaic floor stage and often geometrically patterned backdrops. The Blu-ray supports all of this fine detail with ease, and also reproduces the gorgeous, and often quite colorful, costumes very well. Black levels are excellent and contrast remains strong throughout the opera.

Just as good is Simon Boccanegra’s crystal clear DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix (a lossless LPCM 2.0 fold down is also available). This is one of Verdi’s more relatively restrained scores, though the burnished strings of the Orchestra of the Teatro Comunale di Bologna sound warm and inviting even when not declaiming florid emotional underscore. Separation is quite inviting here, immersing the listener in what I assume is a very real reproduction of the soundfield within the Teatro Comunale di Bologna itself. Balance between the orchestra and singers is generally quite good...Fidelity is superb throughout here with excellent dynamic range.

No supplements are offered on the disc. The insert booklet has a good essay and plot synopsis.

Even ardent Verdi fans may never have experienced Simon Boccanegra. This Blu-ray offers a very well balanced production that features fine singing from almost all of the leads, and surprisingly supple work by a lesser known orchestra. This visual presentation puts the “blu(e)” in Blu-ray, and the audio presentation is similarly lustrous. Highly recommended.

Nicholas Sheffo
Fulvue Drive-in, August 2010

Verdi – Simon Boccanegra/Mariotti (ArtHaus Blu-ray) is the first time we have covered the lesser-heard/seen opera, but I was pleasantly surprised at the Teatro Comunale di Bologna performers and locale, a place that displays the arts well. Though we get some softness and motion blur in the 1080i HD picture, the DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) lossless 5.1 sound is more impressive and well recorded as conductor Michele Mariotti and stage director George Gallione back a fine cast including Roberto Frontali as the title character. A booklet is also included.

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