Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
|Verdi Simon Boccanegra|
Actors: Cappuccili, Ricciarelli, Ghiaurov, De Fabritis
Genres: Musicals & Performing Arts
Todd K | 04/19/2009
(3 out of 5 stars)
"There is much good-to-great solo singing in this telecast of SIMON BOCCANEGRA taped in Tokyo on 26 September 1976, reported in the jacket blurb to have been Japan's first encounter with the work. For many, the names Piero Cappuccilli (Simon Boccanegra), Katia Ricciarelli (Amelia Grimaldi/Maria Boccanegra), and Nicolai Ghiaurov (Jacopo Fiesco), the date of 1976, and a cursory report that all three singers were in representative voice will be enough to justify the purchase. In the event, I am sorry to be able to make only a very qualified recommendation, for this latest entry in VAI's valuable DVD reissue series presents more obstacles to enjoyment than has been typical thus far.
Cappuccilli and Ghiaurov frequently were teamed on stage, in these roles and others, and each upholds his own standard here. From the baritone, there is, of course, that seemingly inexhaustible breath supply -- on a single breath, he manages passages most Boccanegras require two if not more to bring off, and the feat is never an end unto itself, for he puts his resources in the service of shaping long, beguiling legato lines. The emission is impeccably controlled; the tone, if not quite glamorous, at its handsome best. The Bulgarian bass Ghiaurov *did* have a glamorous voice, one of the most beautiful lower male ones to emerge since the Second World War, and he is in solid mid-career shape here, as fearsome in damnations as he is poignant in paternal grief, and summoning a burnished, enveloping warmth for such passages as the "blessing" duet with Gabriele Adorno (Act I) and the final reconciliation with Boccanegra. Only in the Prologue is Ghiaurov given full advantage of his own stage presence, however: the "young" Fiesco of "Il lacerato spirito" has such charisma and magnetism that the over-the-top phony aging to which the singer is submitted for the remainder of the opera (taking place 25 years later) is regrettable. It is topped off, literally, by a notably ratty and distracting white wig.
Katia Ricciarelli's performance is seductive and frustrating in equal measure. Her beautiful lyric soprano here is as yet unscuffed by her subsequent misadventures in dramatic territory (Aida, Turandot); she has an ingratiating way on stage, and she is an expressive vocal actress. She is also, on this night, either cavalier or lazy, if not both. I do not mean this simply in the most fastidious matters of dynamics and note value, but even at the basic level of singing all the notes Verdi wrote --at times she seems to rewrite for ease or comfort, or simply keeps her mouth shut (there is a conspicuous example of the latter in her contribution to the Act III quartet). In general Ricciarelli gives the impression of singing as she likes: half-voicing, sliding, coming in behind the beat, neglecting rhythmic points left and right, getting away with things a stricter conductor than Oliviero de Fabritiis would not have tolerated. In spite of all this, I cannot deny she makes a haunting effect, especially for those moments when she chooses really to sing out in her middle register. But a comparison with the similarly equipped Mirella Freni, the reigning Amelia/Maria of her day (praise that seems too faint), is not flattering to Ricciarelli. Both women had attractive voices and both knew how to use their appealing personalities to get us on their side, but Freni consistently put more body in the tone and was the more diligent and attentive musician.
As Gabriele Adorno, Giorgio Merighi is, here, not only a poor actor but a plainly uncomfortable one. For example, with the Council Chamber's monumental "peace" concertato concluded, he adopts a sheepish mien and wanders away from Ricciarelli for no apparent reason, and then back. His singing is better, the voice of appropriate size and weight, only a trifle nasal in character, guided by good musical and stylistic sense. A couple of patches of uncertain intonation in Adorno's aria suggest that his throat was better than his ear, but he gives a good accounting of himself. Lorenzo Saccomani, a Tokyo Lirica Italiana regular (Valentin in FAUST and Silvio in PAGLIACCI), is an adequate Paolo, not encouraged by the production to do more than make the obvious points.
After his arresting work in a recently issued 1973 Tokyo AIDA (Santunione/Cossotto/Bergonzi -- see review of DVD), conductor Oliviero de Fabritiis is a disappointment. His is a very restrained and subdued reading, and while there are parts of the score where the approach pays dividends, ultimately we get less than the whole picture. Other conductors have given us more vital and mercurial BOCCANEGRAs with no sacrifice in lyricism or introspection. Too often, de Fabritiis is simply soft-edged, his foot always hovering over if not depressing the brake, and this combines with the responsible (though less than first-rate) work of the NHK Symphony Orchestra for an impression of tentativeness. The orchestra does uphold its end better than does the Union of Japan Professional Choruses, which reminds us all too well how important the choral work is in BOCCANEGRA, and how cruelly both Verdi's music *and* the Piave/Boito hybrid libretto can expose a weak or underrehearsed group. Much of the choral singing is vaguely coordinated and approximate in attack. Compounding this problem, the Japanese appear to have received minimal stage direction and look utterly lost when they must, for example, storm the Council Chamber in riot. It is chaos, yes, but not the kind one desires. (They also sport some of the silliest, most thrown-together-looking and inappropriate costumes I have ever seen in an opera DVD -- not patricians and plebeians so much as court jesters with a domino fetish. Throughout, while the main characters look conventionally presentable, the less important a role is, the more risible and desperate the clothing gets.)
Both sound (mono) and picture are at the low end of the scale for the VAI series, which has had its audio/video ups and downs. The image quality frequently is dark, and quality of focus varies. Longer shots are apt to be so blurred that detail passes for nothing, but these are apt to give way to a close-up or medium shot that is comparatively crisp. In short, it is all over the place. At least one unforgivable sin can be laid on the director of the original telecast: Boccanegra's final collapse, as he succumbs to the poison, is shown from such an angle that Cappuccilli is largely blocked from view (instead, we are looking at Ghiaurov's back). Sound is listenable but muddy, both for the period and for the specific DVD series of which this is part. The burned-in Japanese subtitles often continue appearing when the English ones have nothing to add, and the English ones have numerous awkward, tin-eared translations. The more recent of the two Met DVDs, with Vladimir Chernov in the title role, does a far better job of making eloquent English of BOCCANEGRA's dialogue. That Met DVD (on DG), itself flawed in some ways, remains my first choice for a BOCCANEGRA in the home. The Japanese performance, which on paper looked as though it could sweep the board, is best acquired as a supplement, its principal lure being the opportunity to see Cappuccilli and Ghiaurov in roles with which they were closely associated and for which they are warmly remembered."