In an approach to one of Verdi's greatest operas which relies almost entirely upon Verdi's music and concentrates on a clear statement of the libretto, James Conway delivers a major lesson to the world of operatic direction. By stripping away every possible distraction, ignoring costuming conventions and discarding the usual set paraphernalia associated with Grand Opera, this production emerges with a sense of drama and clarity of the plot which makes it stand head and shoulders above any production of Boccanegra I have ever seen.
The opening prelude disclosing the relationship of Boccanegra and Fiesco sets a standard of intelligent singing and acting which is maintained throughout the whole opera. Grant Doyle and Piotr Lampa as Paolo Albani and Pietro provide a convincing insight to the struggles which are going on between the patricians and the plebes to determine who should become the new leader in Genoa. Both they and Craig Smith as Simon Boccanegra and Keel Watson as Fiesco get the performance off to a powerful beginning with some superbly shaped performances.
As the dramatic core of the work develops, the quality of the performances of all of the principals grows in stature. Elizabeth Llewellyn, Amelia Grimaldi/Maria, the bastard daughter of Boccanegra and grand-daughter of Fiesco, gives a performance of great lyrical beauty and is clearly a talent which has huge potential. Charne Rochford sustains the exceptional quality of this ensemble performance with his beautifully crafted portrayal of Gabriele Adorno.
There are so many highlights in this production as to make it impossible to mention all of them but the duet in Act 1 between Amelia and Boccanegra deserves to be singled out, together with the death scene at the end of the work.
Michael Rosewall reads the score well and conducts the piece with great empathy drawing some fine playing from the orchestra and good choral responses from the singers. This combines well with the stark simple design of Samal Blak and the sympathetic lighting of Ace McCarron. Congratulations to English Touring Opera on a real triumph. Do not miss this opportunity to see this for yourself.
- John Bird