Simon Boccanegra, the second volume in the Verdi Originals series, is set in 14th Century Genoa and explores the political intrigues of the times, centred on the discovery of the true identity of Amelia Boccanegra. This original 1857 version predates the revision by 24 years and represents Verdi's most extensive alterations to one of his operas, making this original version a must for all serious collectors of 19th century Italian opera. The 1976 broadcast presented the original version, almost certainly the first time it had been heard for over a hundred years. In recent times, for various Verdian celebrations, there have been concert performances but this is the first official appearance of the original version on disc. The title role is sung by the remarkably versatile Sesto Bruscantini, a great artist who died in the spring of 2003. He is supported by a wonderful cast including three exceptional British singers: baritone William Elvin, alongside basses Paul Hudson and Gwynne Howell. John Matheson conducts the BBC orchestra and the BBC singers. The opera is accompanied by a fully illustrated 200-page booklet, in four languages (Italian, German, English and French) with an introduction by Opera Rara's late Artistic Director, Patric Schmid, and an insightful article by Verdi expert, Roger Parker.
Booklet includes complete libretto with translations in English, French and German.
'No Verdian should be without it' - Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com
The opera is set in Genoa at a time when the city was ruled by opposing groups of patricians and plebeians. Against a background of political conflict is the personal enmity between the plebeian Simon Boccanegra and the patrician Fiesco.
Boccanegra is a famous corsair who has led successful raids on Genoa’s enemies. He fell in love with Maria, Fiesco’s daughter, and they had a child. Fiesco forbade Maria to marry Boccanegra, who is of lower rank, and imprisoned her in his palace; the baby is being raised by a nurse outside the city. Fiesco’s cruel attitude to Maria is widely known.
Paolo, a plebeian, plans to exploit Boccanegra’s love for Maria to gain power for himself.
Paolo and Pietro are discussing nominations for the plebeian candidate in the coming election of a Doge. Paolo’s choice is Simon Boccanegra. Boccanegra arrives. Paolo persuades him to stand: if he becomes Doge, Fiesco could no longer refuse him the hand of his daughter Maria. Pietro rallies a crowd of citizens and persuades them to support Boccanegra.
Fiesco comes out of his palace. Maria has died, and he swears vengeance on the man who has destroyed his family and taken his beloved daughter. Boccanegra appears and is confronted by Fiesco, who does not tell him of Maria’s death. Boccanegra offers reconciliation, but Fiesco says he will only forgive h im if Boccanegra lets Fiesco have his granddaughter. Boccanegra refuses: he explains that the child has vanished. The two men part in anger.
Fiesco lets Boccanegra discover Maria’s body. At that moment the people pour in, hailing Boccanegra as the new Doge.
25 years have elapsed. The Doge has exiled many of his political opponents and confiscated their property. Among these enemies is Fiesco, who has been living in the Grimaldi palace plotting with other nobles to overthrow Boccanegra. Years earlier, the Grimaldi family discovered an orphan being cared for in a convent: with no idea of her real identity – she was the daughter of Maria and Boccanegra – the Grimaldi’s adopted her. They hoped that by pretending she was their daughter Amelia, who had just died, they would have an heir to their family fortune, their sons having been exiled.
Amelia is waiting for her love, Gabriele Adorno, a nobleman whose father was killed by Boccanegra. Suspecting him of being involved in a political conspiracy against the Doge, Amelia warms him of the possible consequences.
An unexpected visit from the Doge is announced. Amelia, who fears the Doge has come to force her to marry Paolo, urges Adorno to ask Fiesco for permission to marry her. Fiesco arrives; he agrees, telling Adorno of Amelia’s adoption. Adorno, however, is undeterred, and the two leave.
Boccanegra enters. He surprises Amelia by granting a pardon to her exiled brothers. She confesses that she loves Adorno and will not marry Paolo. She tells Boccanegra that she was adopted, and as she relates what she knows of her early life, Boccanegra realizes that she is his long-lost daughter. They are overjoyed to have discovered each other.
When Paolo enters, Boccanegra tells him to give up any idea of marrying Amelia. Enraged, Paolo arranges for Amelia to be kidnapped.
Amid the festivities of the harbour the Doge appears and is interrupted by Fiesco and Adorno who accuse him of abducting Amelia. At the climax of the scene, Amelia herself appears, protesting the Doge’s innocence; she narrates her abduction but refuses to reveal who was responsible. All join in calling for the perpetrator to be brought to justice.
Paolo tells Pietro to fetch Adorno and Fiesco, whom he has arrested for treason.
Paolo urges Fiesco to murder Boccanegra while he is asleep. Fiesco refuses and is taken back to his dungeon. Paolo, suggesting to Adorno that Amelia has been brought to the Doge’s apartment because she is his mistress, now hopes to incite Adorno to murder Boccanegra. Alone, Adorno rages against Boccanegra.
Amelia enters. Adorno accuses her of being unfaithful. She cannot fully reassure him, though, without revealing that she is Boccanegra’s daughter. As Boccanegra approaches, Adorno hides. When Amelia says to Boccanegra that she would die for Adorno, Boccanegra agrees to pardon him, even though he is part of the conspiracy against him.
Boccanegra, alone and weary, falls asleep. Adorno is about to stab him when Amelia return to stop him. Boccanegra wakes. He tells Adorno that Amelia is his daughter. Adorno, astounded, begs Amelia’s forgiveness and pledges his life to the Doge.
Shouting is heard; the rebellion has started. Boccanegra bids Adorno join his comrades, but Adorno swears allegiance to the Doge. Boccanegra orders him to quell the fighting: if he succeeds, Amelia will be his reward.
The uprising has been put down. Adorno has distinguished himself in Boccanegra’s service and will be rewarded. Pietro whispers that he has made everything ready and Paolo orders the murder of Boccanegra. A wedding chorus is heard. Paolo tells Fiesco that he has poisoned Boccanegra and that Fiesco should flee if he does not want to be implicated. Fiesco is horrified but refuses to leave.
Boccanegra is now succumbing to the effects of poison. Fiesco comes forward and confronts him. Boccanegra recognizes the voice of his hold enemy. He is overjoyed that they can now be reconciled and tells Fiesco that Amelia is his granddaughter. Fiesco, overcome with remorse, reveals Paolo’s treachery.
Adorno and Amelia arrive from their wedding to find old enemies at peace with one another. Boccanegra summons the strength to tell Amelia that Fiesco is not her guardian but her grandfather. As Boccanegra dies, he names Adorno as his successor as Doge.