Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Placido, Simon Boccanegra, ROH and my Dad

 Placido Domingo isn't a tenor, a baritone, or even a singer. He's a phenomenon. Dozens of people queued outside the stage door waiting for him to arrive at The Royal Opera House for tonight's Simon Boccanegra. Placido needs flowers? As one fan told me. "He's jetting off tomorrow to sing Parsifal". But people need flowers as a symbol to thank Placido for being who he is, and being so much a part of our lives.

Hearing Placido is a privilege. His voice may be showing slight signs of strain, but let's face it, hardly anyone still sings at 69, and then not major roles. Or juggles major responsibilities on several continents (sometimes all within a week). He's brought Italian opera, indeed, any opera, to the world. In Japan he'd be declared a Living National Treasure.

I grew up listening to Verdi because my Dad adored Italy, Italian culture, art, movies and opera.  So much so that when I rebelled in my teens I took up Wagner, to drive him mad.  Years later when my Dad was ill, he was in a coma. We put headphones on him and played Italian opera tapes.  Even though he was unconscious, his face would relax and soften - blessed relief.  So tonight at the Royal Opera House, hearing one of Dad's favourite singers and favourite operas was a very moving experience for me. I kept thinking how proud he'd be, how happy I'd made it to Europe and the ROH, which he never did.

Because my Dad was so interested in Italian art and architecture, he would have loved this production. The sets are stunningly beautiful. Checkerboard marble, curved arches. See the photo above, that's the Doge's Palace. Painterly is wonderful, but the drama seems to step out of a canvas in a marbled hall. One very good telling point, easily missed is the graffiti on the walls. These evoke both frescoes and punk scrawl, for the plebs were a powerful; force in 14th century Genoa.  It's an important part of Simon Boccanegra's personality - vagabond outsider who upsets plebs and patricians, and has to keep fighting to stay alive..

Apart from the graffitti, this production doesn't make much of that aspect of Simon Boccanegra, or the darker dramatic undercurrents.  It's so painterly that the singers don't need to move much, just stand and deliver. For movement, drama and vivacity, you have to depend on the music. Verdi didn't write that delicate but telling oboe solo for nothing, nor the sounds of the sea as Simon B lies dying.  It's not, by any means, a sedate opera but this production works well if you think of it as a beautiful canvas.

In any case, this audience came for the stars. Placido, of course, but also Joseph Calleja, Ferrucio Furlanetto, and Marina Poplavskaya.  Fans love stars, however they sing, but this was the best all round singing all season, and not only at ROH.  Pllacido comes on and everything racks up into high gear.  I'll write more about this performance tomorrow, and in a more formal way, but for now, this will suffice. (Please see Opera Today where it is, with photos)

Coming up : SIX operas in nine days!  Including Glyndebourne Don Giovanni. Keep coming back to this site for the next few credit

1 comment:

freeze said...

What a wonderful post, thank you for sharing your experiences!