NEW YORK—In 2008, a poll of opera critics conducted by BBC Music Magazine named Plácido Domingo the greatest tenor of all time. The following year, he began a new career as a baritone.
Verdi is Domingo’s favorite opera composer, and he first performed the title role of “Simon Boccanegra” at the Metropolitan Opera in 2010. Now 75 years old, he is again tackling the demanding part at the Met with the venerable James Levine conducting.
The plot is rather convoluted. It begins in Genoa in the 14th century with a revolution throwing out the aristocracy. The crowd overturns a statue, reminiscent of the scene in Iraq after the invasion. In fact, all the political upheavals in the Giancarlo del Monaco production resemble the events we see on the news every day.
The title character is a pirate turned politician (sound familiar?) whose lover, Maria, dies at the beginning. Just as Boccanegra finds Maria’s body, the crowd declares him the ruler. Her father, the aristocrat Fiesco, mourns her death but hates Boccanegra for having an illicit affair that resulted in the birth of a daughter. Fiesco demands his granddaughter, but Boccanegra explains that the baby has mysteriously disappeared. All of this happens during the Prologue.
Act I begins 25 years later. Fiesco is living under the assumed name of Andrea Grimaldi and is raising Amelia, whom he believes to be an orphan. In actuality, she is his granddaughter.
Meanwhile, Amelia is in love with Gabriele Adorno, a revolutionary who wants to overturn Boccanegra. One of the courtiers, Paolo, has his own designs on Amelia and has a confederate try to abduct her. The plan is foiled by Adorno, who erroneously thinks Boccanegra is behind the attempted kidnapping.
Boccanegra figures out that Amelia is really his long-lost daughter, and the girl convinces him to pardon Adorno.
At the end, Boccanegra is poisoned by Paolo, but everybody (except for the murderer on his way to be executed) makes up in time for the ruler to sing his final notes.
“Simon Boccanegra” was not successful when it premiered in 1857. More than 20 years later, Arrigo Boito revised the libretto, adding the powerful council chamber scene in Act I. The later version of the opera is the one being revived at the Met.
While Domingo doesn’t sound like a true baritone, his voice is still powerful and, if anything, his interpretation of the role has deepened since he performed it in 2010. Has anyone at his age performed leading roles at a major opera house and done so with such distinction?
Another veteran, bass Ferruccio Furlanetto, was a splendid Fiesco. As Amelia, soprano Lianna Haroutounian sang with a lustrous tone, as did the tenor Joseph Calleja in the part of Adorno. Baritone Brian Mulligan from Endicott, New York, shows enormous promise as the evil Paolo.
Under James Levine’s vigorous conducting, Verdi’s music is consistently melodic even if the arias are not among his most famous.
Giancarlo del Monaco’s production is traditional but satisfying. The set of the council chamber evoked cheers from the audience.
Metropolitan Opera House
30 Lincoln Center Plaza
Tickets: 212-362-6000 or MetOpera.org
Running Time: 3 hours, 9 minutes
Closes: April 16
Barry Bassis has been a music, theater, and travel writer for over a decade for various publications.