Opera Scotland

Simon Boccanegra 2013English Touring Opera

Read more about the opera Simon Boccanegra

The only previous Scottish performances of one of Verdi's greatest, if bleakest, operas, were in a short-lived production by Scottish Opera (1978 in Glasgow and 1979 in Aberdeen and elsewhere). Its neglect is thoroughly undeserved. The intimate atmosphere of Perth's theatre suited it very well, concentrating the drama effectively in the last two acts as the tragedy develops.

What was more difficult to imagine was how this small company would cope with the dramatic choral scenes in the first sections of the work. Also, Boccanegra, at least in its revised version of 1881, being a late example of Verdi's mastery, has a subtlety of orchestration more complex than in La Traviata, the only other Verdi opera to have been given at the Perth theatre in modern times (by ETO and, many years ago, Scottish Opera).

Two features of this performance shone out with particular brilliance. One was the direction of the orchestra by Michael Rosewell. Right from the foreboding prelude with its gentle hints of the sea, the band were on top form. Rosewell paced everything entirely naturally, two clear examples from the first act being the reunion of Amelia and Simon - surely the greatest of Verdi's wonderful series of father-daughter duets - and the great ensemble in the Council Chamber followed by those haunting bass clarinet phrases.

The second star of the show was undoubtedly Elizabeth Llewellyn in the role of Amelia. This soprano having taken to professional singing as a second career, seems to have been able to let her velvety voice develop naturally with wonderful results. There are few sopranos who sing Verdi with such style, and she mastered all the difficulties of the part.

The men all gave thoroughly committed dramatic performances, and sometimes that seemed to affect their vocal efforts. Charne Rochford is a young tenor whose voice has developed since his Luigi a couple of years ago. While the tone isn't sweet, he phrases sensitively and acts well and is clearly a singer to watch in future. Keel Watson, usually seen here in less serious roles, made appropriate use of physical stillness as Fiesco, and had an easy mastery of all the dark aspects of his music. The second bass role, the rebel Pietro, was given a nicely sardonic wide-boy performance by Piotr Lempa.

Craig Smith, in the title role, had a frustrating evening. He is tall and slim, which always made him a prominent figure dramatically. His voice is a powerful one, but he was not on best form at this performance. There was a tendency to lose pitch during some of the climactic moments of the prologue and first act. After the interval, when much of his part should be quiet and movingly beautiful, he sounded tired and struggled to produce the requisite tone. In the role of Paolo, generally seen as a study for Iago in Verdi's next opera, Brendan Collins also tended to overdo things, losing pitch as a result.

Despite these slight shortcomings, the overall quality of presentation was high. James Conway's concept, post-war Italy with class and gangland strife replacing the perennially mysterious conflict of the Guelfs and Ghibellines, was neither here nor there - it did little damage to the laying out of the plot, but didn't add much either. The opening sequence with Paolo and Pietro meeting in dark corners seemed reminiscent of The Third Man, but this wasn't developed. Samal Blak's designs were effective, without contributing anything like the power of his designs for the previous evening's Siege of Calais. The audience (almost a full house) was clearly absorbed throughout and very enthusiastic at the end.

Performance Cast

Paolo Albiani a goldsmith, initially a friend of Simon

Brendan Collins

Pietro leader of the plebeians

Piotr Lempa

Simon Boccanegra a Genoese corsair, later Doge

Craig Smith

Jacopo Fiesco a patrician, later disguised as Andrea Grimaldi

Keel Watson

Amelia Grimaldi in fact Maria, Simon's daughter

Elizabeth Llewellyn

Gabriele Adorno a patrician, in love with Amelia

Charne Rochford

Maid to Amelia

Helen Johnson

Captain

Stuart Haycock

Performance DatesSimon Boccanegra 2013

Map List

Perth Theatre | Perth

17 May, 19.30

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