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Verdi: Simon Boccanegra / Domingo, Furlanetto, Barenboim [blu-ray]

Verdi / Domingo / Harteros / Furlanetto / Sartori
Release Date: 01/31/2012 
Label:  Arthaus Musik   Catalog #: 108039  
Composer:  Giuseppe Verdi
Performer:  Fabio SartoriMassimo CavallettiPlacido DomingoFerruccio Furlanetto,   ... 
Conductor:  Daniel Barenboim
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Milan Teatro alla Scala OrchestraMilan Teatro alla Scala Chorus
Number of Discs: 1 
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VERDI Simon Boccanegra Daniel Barenboim, cond; Plácido Domingo ( Simon ); Ferruccio Furlanetto ( Fiesco ); Anja Read more Harteros ( Amelia ); Fabio Sartori ( Gabriele ); Ernesto Panariello ( Pietro ); Massimo Cavalletti ( Paolo ); La Scala O & Ch ARTHAUS MUSIK 101 595 (DVD: 149:00); 108 039 (Blu-ray: 149:00) Live: Milan 2010

This is the tale of the three Domingos and Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Simon Boccanegra . Actually there were five Domingos, five sets of performances in major opera venues during late 2009 and throughout 2010 of the usually baritone role of Simon performed by operatic superstar tenor Plácido Domingo, but only three made it onto video recordings: the February 2010 HD telecast from New York’s Metropolitan Opera, this production from Milan’s La Scala in May 2010, and the production from London’s Covent Garden (also seen in Berlin) in July of the same year. In between the New York and Milan performances the 69-year-old tenor took time out for colon surgery.

It is not surprising that Domingo would be searching out new material to better complement vocal changes as he ages; his tenor top notes are a real strain for him these days and the darker timbre of his still well-produced singing suggests baritonal roles. But Boccanegra requires a full Verdian baritone with proper heft and a full vocal range, and Domingo still basically has a tenor’s voice, here attempting a major baritone role. It is a bit like listening to a cello concerto played on a viola. Domingo has all the notes (or he finds alternates if not), but he lacks the majesty and rich singing timbre of the lower instrument the role of Verdi’s Doge requires. In fact, he tends to growl the low-lying bits. In fairness, Domingo still brings most of the consummate artistry and emotive power to this role that have always been a hallmark of his remarkable career. He provides an interesting Boccanegra and certainly does nothing to spoil the show.

So, assuming our leading baritone-tenor performs at about the same standard on all three videos, how do the productions compare otherwise? There are supposed to be three generations represented in the opera: Fiesco, who is the grieving father of Simon’s dead beloved, Maria; Simon, as a middle-aged Doge; and Amelia, his 20-something daughter. Both this Milan production and that from London feature the Fiesco of Ferruccio Furlanetto, who is actually younger than Domingo, though not by much. His counterpart in New York is James Morris, who is also reaching the far end of a long and successful career. Despite some mature ladies singing Amelia, the two Fiescos and Domingo all look old enough to be their grandfathers. Both Morris and Furlanetto sound a bit threadbare where they should be properly stentorian and authoritative. James A. Altena, who reviewed the London production in Fanfare 35:1, reports hearing a Furlanetto vocal wobble, but I don’t hear it in this Milan version, only a raspiness that improves as he warms up. I would give him the nod over Morris, who really does sound old. The sopranos playing Amelia are all past the girlish young-daughter age, but all sing pretty well. Milan’s Anja Harteros sings the best and just about steals the show from her compatriots. Marina Poplavskaya in London sings solidly but her emotive skills are rather questionable. Adrianne Pieczonka in New York has some trouble modulating her big voice in softer passages. The New York tenor is Marcello Giordani, who unfortunately pushes his high notes sharp at almost every opportunity. His counterpart in Milan, Fabio Sartori, is rather an average singer who turns in a solid musical performance but is rotund and not heroic-looking, and his acting skills also need work. The tenor choice must go to Joseph Calleja on the London Royal Opera release, who sings his role of Gabriele as it should be sung and looks like an attractive young suitor for Amelia.

Of the three stage productions I favor New York’s updated 1995 traditional version. Altena dislikes London’s drably stylized sets and costumes in the Elijah Moshinsky production, and the Milan staging seen here by Federico Tiezzi is also quite stylized and minimalistic. Tiezzi chooses to lay a heavy directorial hand on the production every now and then so you don’t forget he is there, as in the final scene, when a giant rectangular mirror is lowered so as to reflect the onstage action and make some kind of unneeded artsy comment about reality and illusion. In my opinion it just distracts from the moving death scene proceeding below. All three orchestras, choruses, and directors are world-class. I would give the slight edge to the New York Met forces and possibly the baton work to London’s Antonio Pappano.

To sum up, the three Domingos all have some attractive strengths and a few weaknesses. All feature the legendary Domingo, with voice, artistic sensitivity, and emotive skills remarkably still intact. If you are looking to purchase one of them this Teatro alla Scala set from Milan has its merits, plus you get the vibrant Amelia of Harteros. Altena provides a rather thorough review of other competing videos in the Covent Garden review and I would agree with his selection of the 1995 Met production (using the same costumes and sets) as one of the top choices available. An advantage of the newer versions such as this one is they all come in breathtaking HD video and unprocessed surround sound on Blu-ray. Recommended.

FANFARE: Bill White

Simon Boccanegra – Plácido Domingo
Jacopo Fiesco – Ferruccio Furlanetto
Paolo Albiani – Massimo Cavaelletti
Pietro – Ernesto Panariello
Amelia Grimaldi (Maria) – Anja Harteros
Gabriele Adorno – Fabio Sartori
Capitano dei Balestrieri – Antonello Ceron
Ancella di Amelia – Alisa Zinovjeva

Milan La Scala Chorus and Orchestra
(chorus master: Bruno Casoni)
Daniel Barenboim, conductor

Federico Tiezzi, stage director
Pier Paolo Bisleri, set designer
Giovanna Buzzi, costume designer
Marco Filibeck, lighting designer

Recorded live from Teatro alla Scala, Milan, 2010

Picture format: 1080i Full-HD
Sound format: PCM Stereo / DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Subtitles: Italian, English, German, French, Spanish, Korean
Running time: 149 mins
No. of Discs: 1 (BD 25)
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Works on This Recording

Simon Boccanegra by Giuseppe Verdi
Performer:  Fabio Sartori (Tenor), Massimo Cavalletti (Baritone), Placido Domingo (Tenor),
Ferruccio Furlanetto (Bass), Ernesto Panariello (Baritone), Anja Harteros (Soprano),
Antonello Ceron (Tenor)
Conductor:  Daniel Barenboim
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Milan Teatro alla Scala Orchestra,  Milan Teatro alla Scala Chorus
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1857; Italy 

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