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Simon Boccanegra review at Royal Opera House – ‘an outstanding performance from Carlos Alvarez’

Mark Rucker and Carlos Alvarez in Simon Boccanegra at Royal Opera House, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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First seen in 1991, Elijah Moshinsky’s production of Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra has helped cement a once neglected masterpiece in the Royal Opera’s repertoire, even if its overall stance – highly traditional even when new – now looks distinctly jaded.

The late Peter J Hall’s resplendent Renaissance costumes – the opera is set in 14th-century Genoa – are complemented by Michael Yeargan’s imposing sets. Philip D’Orleans’ fight sequences are adeptly staged. A solid piece of work, Moshinsky’s direction nevertheless offers few new insights.

Of all the participants, the only one to realise his or her individual character to a memorable extent is Carlos Alvarez. His focused vocalism and nuanced acting flesh out the central role of the corsair who becomes the Doge of Genoa and then develops into a wise leader determined upon reconciliation: it’s a magnificent interpretation from the Spanish baritone.

Veteran Italian bass Ferruccio Furlanetto maintains dignity as Boccanegra’s lifelong opponent Fiesco, even with an unsurprising diminishment in his vocal quality and musical authority. His acting is conventional, as is that of Francesco Meli, in striking vocal health as Gabriele Adorno, if too often too loud (a general fault), as well as that of Armenian soprano Hrachuhi Bassenz, who is apt to simper as the Doge’s long-lost daughter Amelia but whose vocalism is unfailingly skilful.

Smaller roles are well handled by Mark Rucker as the villainous Paolo and Simon Shibambu as his sidekick Pietro. A good evening’s work from the chorus and orchestra under Hungarian conductor Henrik Nanasi, who explores the score’s textures and colours efficiently while missing too much of its detail.

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Carlos Alvarez is outstanding in Elijah Moshinsky’s rather tired production