LA Opera on Air broadcasts continue on Classical 90.5 at noon this Saturday, July 28, with a performance of Simon Boccanegra by Giuseppe Verdi. The libretto is by Francesco Maria Piave, with later revisions and additions by Arrigo Boito, after the play by Antonio García Gutiérrez. The performance will be sung in Italian and will run approximately three hours and fifteen minutes. James Conlon conducts.
Simon Boccanegra as we know it today took over 20 years to create. In 1856, Giuseppe Verdi was asked to write an opera for Venice’s Teatro La Fenice. Verdi’s last premiere at the theater, La Traviata, had been a hit and its librettist, Fransesco Maria Piave, was hired in hopes of a repeat success. Simon Boccanegra, a play by Garcia Gutierrez, was chosen as the subject of the opera, and Verdi began composing the type of politically charged score he was already famous for in nineteenth century Italy. However, a confusing plot and unfamiliar musical developments made his first version of Simon Boccanegra a flop. It was not until Verdi and new librettist Antonio Boito reworked the opera more than two decades later that the work fully communicated Verdi’s trademark nationalism and artistic vigor.
The Prologue is set in a piazza in fourteenth-century Genoa where Paolo and Pietro, leaders of the popular (plebeian) party, conspire to gain power over the aristocracy (patricians). They name the popular former pirate Simon Boccanegra as their candidate for the office of Doge, the chief magistrate of the republic. Boccanegra accepts, hoping that his position will enable him to marry Maria, who has been imprisoned by her father, the patrician Fiesco, because she bore Boccanegra an illegitimate child. The plebeians pledge their support to Boccanegra. When they leave, Fiesco appears, mourning Maria’s death. Boccanegra, unaware she has died, returns and tries to make peace with the patrician. Fiesco demands that he first be given his grandchild, but Boccanegra explains that she has disappeared (“Del mar sul lido”). Fiesco leaves and Boccanegra enters the palace, discovering Maria’s body. As he staggers outside, the crowd proclaims him Doge.
Twenty-five years elapse between the Prologue and Act I. During this time, Boccanegra has exiled many of his political opponents and confiscated their property. Fiesco, now exiled, lives outside Genoa in the Grimaldi Palace under the assumed name of “Andrea.” He is the guardian of a certain Amelia Grimaldi. The infant daughter of Count Grimaldi had died in a convent near Pisa. The same day she died, an orphan was discovered on the convent grounds and brought up in the dead girl’s place. She was given the name Amelia Grimaldi in order to provide the family with an heiress and to protect their property from confiscation when they became political exiles. Amelia is in reality Maria Boccanegra, the daughter of Simon Boccanegra and Maria, Fiesco’s dead daughter. Neither Fiesco nor Boccanegra know Amelia’s true identity. Amelia’s lover is the patrician Gabriele Adorno. Gabriele and Fiesco, whom he knows only as “Andrea,” have been plotting against the Doge Boccanegra. Now the stage is fully set for the story of Verdi's Simon Boccanegra to unfold.