Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 16th April, 2013
Verdi’s opera of politics and melodrama packs a lot in to its two-and-a-half hours. So much so, it can be difficult to keep clear who is who and what they’re up to, but this I think is mainly the fault of the libretto rather than this production.
Director James Conway brings the action forward in time to the 1930s depression. There is more than a hint of organised crime to the carryings on. Boccanegra (traditionally an ex-pirate) is described as an ex-black marketer. This is the world of The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, except everyone is clamouring for Boccanegra to become Doge, dodgy though he may have been.
Most of the intrigue centres around Boccanegra’s bastard daughter, who went missing when she was an infant. Her maternal grandfather resents Boccanegra for this and for the death of the child’s mother. He – Fiesco – forms an alliance with Paolo against Boccanegra. It all comes to a head twenty five years later, when the girl shows up, is mistaken by her boyfriend for Boccanegra’s mistress and… Well, there’s a slow-acting poison, some touching reunions and reconciliations and a death scene. Oh, and some off-stage riots, although I’m not clear why exactly. As opera plots go, it’s all pretty standard and nothing to worry about. What matters are the moments of emotion. These come across clearly and effectively. There is some very powerful singing indeed.
In the title role, Craig Smith is every inch the statesman and protective father. His rich baritone conveys authority and warmth. It’s like being ordered about by a bar of dark chocolate. Charne Rochford is a strident tenor, which suits Adorno’s impassioned outbursts and anger a little better than his love songs. Grant Doyle oozes ‘bad guy’ as Paolo but for me the strongest performances of the evening come from Keel Watson as Fiesco, credibly grieving for his dead daughter, and Elizabeth Llewellyn as the long-lost daughter Amelia, who goes through the widest range of emotions and sings them all beautifully.
Samal Blak’s inventive set: planks that can be cleverly reconfigured to suggest different locations, provides an evocative setting without overshadowing the performers. Lighting direction by Ace McCarron enhances both the mood and the sense of place: There is a gorgeous moment when Boccanegra reminisces about his past, and the stage becomes iridescent, like sunlight catching the tops of ocean waves. Beautiful.
So while the comings and goings might be a little hard to follow, this is still a superior night at the opera. English Touring Opera show yet again they are a hallmark of quality and talent.