- Simon Boccanegra
|Orchestra e Coro del Teatro alla Scala||Paolo Albiani: Felice Schiavi|
|Conductor: Claudio Abbado||Pietro: Giovanni Foiani|
|Chorus Master: Romano Gandolfi||Maria Boccanegra: Mirella Freni|
|Recorded January 8, 1972, Milan||Gabriele Adorno: Gianni Raimondi|
|Myto Records MCD (2 CDs)||Un capitano dei balestrieri: Gianfranco|
|Simon Boccanegra: Piero Cappuccilli||Manganotti|
|Jacopo Fiesco: Nicolai Ghiaurov||Un'ancella d'Amelia: Milena Pauli|
|Orchestra e Coro del||Video Editor: Maurizio Bonomi|
|Maggio Musicale Fiorentino||Recorded June 2002, Teatro Comunale Florence|
|Conductor: Claudio Abbado||TDK Mediactive, 2003 (1 DVD)|
|Chorus Master: José Luis Basso||Simon Boccanegra: Carlo Guelfi|
|Director: Peter Stein||Jacopo Fiesco: Julian Konstantinov|
|Codirector: C. P. von Maldeghem||Paolo Albiani: Lucio Gallo|
|Set Design: Stefan Meyer||Pietro: Andrea Concetti|
|Costume Design: Moidele Bickel||Maria Boccanegra: Karita Mattila|
|Lighting Design: Guido Levi||Gabriele Adorno: Vincenzo La Scola|
|Video Director: Carlo Battistoni||Un capitano dei balestrieri: Enrico Cossutta|
|Director of Photography: Gianni Caporali||Un'ancella d'Amelia: Katia Pellegrino|
Exactly thirty years separate these two live recordings of Verdi's Simon Boccanegra. Why review them together, since the first is a "pirate" CD of problematic sound quality and the second an "official" DVD of high technical accomplishment? The answer is obvious: because they capture two different moments in conductor Claudio Abbado's extraordinary relationship with Verdi's opera. The CD documents one of the earliest performances of Giorgio Strehler's epoch-making production, which opened the season at La Scala on December 7, 1971. The DVD offers Peter Stein's production, originally conceived for the Salzburg Easter Festival in 2000, performed at the 2002 Maggio Musicale Fiorentino.
Abbado's first encounter with Boccanegra in the 1970s is, of course, well known from the 1977 Deutsche Grammophon studio recording featuring many of the same interpreters from six years earlier (a squillantissimo Gianni Raimondi as Gabriele Adorno in Milan was replaced by a movingly tortured José Carreras in what is possibly his finest performance ever on disc; Felice Schiavi's blustery Paolo was also substituted by José van Dam's subtler, shadowy impersonation). However, the conductor's view of the opera changed in remarkable ways not only between the 1970s and the 2000s, but also between 1971–72 and 1977, at least [End Page 137] judging from the performance now made available by Myto. What is more, since its appearance thirty years ago, his studio recording has become the benchmark against which all other interpretations of the opera have been measured, on disc or live. Therefore, bringing it into the discussion seems justified.
Strehler's and Abbado's 1971 production had an enormous impact in Italy at the time and quickly became a symbol of their collaboration and of La Scala's artistic achievements. When, in 1986, Abbado vacated the position of music director, which he had held since 1968, he pointed to this Boccanegra as the high point of those eighteen years.1 The company clearly considered it the perfect showcase, reviving it several times and taking it to Moscow (1974), London (1976), Washington (1976), Paris (1978), and Tokyo (1981), in many cases with most of the original cast.
So what made this Boccanegra such an epoch-making achievement? The CD evidences an exceptionally high quality of singing: Cappuccilli's ample voice and faultless technique are brought into the service of an even more vivid interpretation than in the studio recording, richer in color and theatrical impact; Ghiaurov's beautifully bronzed sound adds particular eloquence to his affecting portrayal of the more tortured side of Fiesco. Perhaps the greatest achievement, however, is Freni's Amelia: her voice is not exactly suited to the requirements of the part's dramatic moments (even less so in 1972 than in 1977), but she finds a way of attacking the words with such intensity—as if she were biting them—that the voice itself seems to acquire heft and a force of penetration. Of course, she is wonderfully touching in the lyrical parts; but the anger she brings to her narrative in the council chamber scene in 1972 is even more affecting, especially in comparison with her more sedate, slightly passive account of this moment in the 1977 recording.
Abbado's conducting invites...