Metropolitan Opera broadcasts continue on Classical 90.5 at 9:30 a.m. this Saturday, April 2, with a performance of Simon Boccanegra by Giuseppe Verdi. The libretto is by Francesco Maria Piave, who based it on the play Simón Bocanegra by Antonio García Gutiérrez, whose play El trovador had been the basis for Verdi's 1853 opera, Il trovatore. Piave also worked with Verdi on Macbeth, Rigoletto, La Traviata, and La Forza del Destino, among others. Arrigo Boito, who collaborated on Verdi's later revision of Boccanegra, was a writer and composer who would eventually create the librettos to Verdi’s final two masterpieces, Otello and Falstaff.
Simon Boccanegra is Verdi’s compelling portrayal of a man who is both a leader and an outsider, set against one of the most incisive depictions of politics ever put on the stage. The premiere was not successful, and the composer revised the opera more than 20 years later. Although Boccanegra remains just outside the core repertory of Verdi favorites, it is a rewarding example of his genius at its most humane and insightful.
The opera is based on a historical figure who, in 1339, became doge (leader) of the Republic of Genoa. While the details of the pseudo-history in the story are irrelevant to appreciating the opera, the issues symbolized in the historical moment are crucial. The endless fighting between and within the various Italian city-states of the era forms a rich background for this tale of a man worn down by social and personal fragmentation.
Even looking at its original 1857 form, Verdi was attempting something new with Boccanegra. He supplied each act with the customary rousing music, but insisted that the important parts of the score were found between the applause-grabbing moments. His sophisticated revision expanded the role of the orchestra and deepened the characterizations. Standouts in the score include Fiesco’s aria in the Prologue and the grand Act I council chamber scene, added for the revision, which features one of the most elaborate ensembles in opera and ends with a whisper instead of the usual wall of sound.
The performance will run approximately three hours and fifteen minutes. James Levine conducts and Plácido Domingo sings the role of Boccanegra.