I coincidentally bumped into a few friends while going to see 'Simon Boccanegra' at the ENO last week. During the interval my singer friend mentioned that although the production was enjoyable it was a shame that the setting and design was so modern. I thought back to the last few operas I had seen at the epic Colliseum and realised that most had had a contemporary set and vision. Despite these modernisations sometimes offering an intriguing alternative message, I realised just how much I missed the glorious costumes, magnificent stage sets and magical props of more conventional opera productions. Opera should transport you to another world - a euphoric experience totally removed from everyday life - and so watching a grey suited chorus sing Verdi on this night was a little disappointing, and reminded me too much of my day job in a smart real estate office. It is director Dmitri Tcherniakov who is to blame, a Russian creative who many had high hopes for after he stunned with his brilliant version of Eugene Onegin at Covent Garden last year.
The story of Simon Boccanegra is ridiculously complex, and after about 20 minutes I gave up trying to follow. The narrative is explained with frequent projections - words appear suspended on the black backdrop on stage. It is not dissimilar to a Harry Potter scene, and I thought it worked wonderfully well- at least it forces the audience to sit up and read, an immediate interaction with the performance.
I have never seen this Verdi masterpiece before, so was surprised by how quickly I connected with the music, a bold score that ENO Music Director Edward Gardner conducts with experience and elegance. Of the singers it was the men that really impressed me, baritone Bruno Caproni sung the title role with a warm rich tone, and Roland Wood was an imposing villain as Paolo Albiani. It did not come as a surprise when Brindley Sherratt amazed with his rendition as Fiesco. He gave an authoritive and confident performance that really stood out. The young and troubled Amelia was taken on by Rena Harms in her ENO debut. Harms looked the part with her striking long dark hair and innocent demeanour, but is underwhelming vocally, and weak in some arias.
I was pleased to see Simon Boccanegra for the first time, and found the orchestral music very powerful and moving. It is rare that I enjoy a score so much on the first listening. However as a production, Tcherniakov’s sloppy ideas didn’t translate well to stage which left me feeling rather dissatisfied.
Simon Boccanegra continues until 9 July, book here.