Thursday, February 25, 2010

Get Along, Little Doge

I have been complaining about the simplicity of the plot-line in Crazyheart. Last night I attended a performance that redressed the balance. I saw Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra in HD at the REGAL MULTIPLEX in Brooklyn Center along with twenty or thirty other opera enthusiasts. I’d seen it before, I have it on tape. Yet one gets lost in the plot and begins to groove on the gravelly voices, including that of Placido Domingo, in a baritone role. Here’s the story:

Set in fourteenth-century Genoa, Simone Boccanegra begins with Paolo and Pietro, leaders of the popular (plebeian) party, conspiring to gain power over the aristocracy by supporting the former pirate Simon Boccanegra in the upcoming election for Doge. Boccanegra agrees to run, hoping that if he becomes Doge he’ll be able to marry Maria, with whom he has fathered a child. Maria is being sequestered by her father, the patrician Fiesco, and having grown sickly within the confines of the family castle, on the night of the election, she dies. Fiesco and Boccanegra meet and Boccanegra tries to make peace with his haughty potential father-in-law. Fiesco demands that he first be given custody of his grandchild, and Boccanegra explains that she has disappeared. Boccanegra then enters the palace and discovers Maria’s body just as the crowd outside is proclaiming him Doge.

(So much for the prologue, set at night in an alleyway in Genoa and involving confrontations between four characters, not one of them of a higher voice than baritone. And yet some people find the opera dark!)

In act 1, twenty-five years have passed. Boccanegra, true to his populist roots, has exiled many aristocrats and confiscated their property. Fiesco now lives in exile outside Genoa in the Grimaldi Palace under the assumed name of “Andrea” with his daughter Amelia. In fact, the real Amelia is dead, and the current Amelia is an orphan who was recruited to protect the Grimaldi property from confiscation. This Amelia loves Gabriele Adorno, who is plotting with Fiesco to overthrow the Doge. As every opera-goer would immediately discern, even if they hadn’t read the program, Amelia is in reality Maria Boccanegra, the daughter of Simon Boccanegra and Maria, and thus not Fiesco’s fake daughter but his real granddaughter.

As the first act opens, Amelia sings a sweet aria as she waits for Gabriele in the garden of the Grimaldi Palace, “Come in quest’ora bruna,” and we are thankful to finally hear a female voice and a genuine melody. Gabriele arrives, only to learn from Amelia that the Doge wants her to marry his courtier Paolo (who, you may recall, had gotten the Doge-ship for him in the first place, a quarter-century earlier.) Boccanegra arrives to inform Amelia that he has pardoned her brothers. (Such a nice guy!) Impressed by his generosity, Amelia tells the Doge that she loves Gabriele and exposes her lowly origins. Boccanegra, stunned by certain details in her recollection, shows her the locket with an image of the dead Maria. It matches Amelia’s locket exactly! (Lockets were important in the days before Facebook.) Boccanegra realizes that Amelia is his long-lost daughter, and they embrace (“Figlia! a tal nome io palpito”). He decides to scrap her marriage with Paolo, and Paolo, rebuffed and insulted, decides to kidnap Amelia.

Scene 2. During a council meeting in the Doge’s Palace, angry shouts are heard from the street and Gabriele rushes in; he has killed a man who was attempting to abduct Amelia, and accuses Boccanegra of plotting the crime. Amelia thwarts Gabriele’s attempt to assassinate the Doge, and he becomes suspicious that she is Boccanegra’s mistress. Amelia describes her abduction and hints at Paolo’s complicity, and Boccanegra forces Paolo to curse the man responsible for it. Terrified, Paolo nevertheless is forced to curse himself.

ACT II. In the Doge’s chambers at night, Paolo pours poison into Boccanegra’s water pitcher (“Me stesso, ho maledetto!”). He summons Gabriele and Fiesco from their prison cells and tries to convince them to assassinate the Doge (just in case the poison doesn’t work), goading Gabriele with unfounded insinuations about the Doge’s relationship with Amelia. Paolo leaves, Amelia arrives; before she can explain her relationship to the Doge, Boccanegra is heard approaching. Gabriele escapes through the window and Amelia asks the Doge to pardon him; Boccanegra agrees (Such a nice guy!) on the condition that Gabriele leave the conspirators. Left alone, he drinks the poisoned water and soon falls into a troubled sleep. Gabriele reappears from the garden and is about to stab the sleeping Doge (though not without a few operatic pangs of conscience) when Amelia rushes in to stop him. The Doge awakens and informs Gabriele that he is not Amelia’s lover, but her father. He forgives the repentant Gabriele (Such a nice guy!) while Amelia prays to her mother in heaven. Gabriele agrees to fight alongside Boccanegra against a mob that has gathered outside and the Doge, seeing that Gabriele, too, is a pretty nice guy, offers him Amelia’s hand in marriage.

ACT III. All of Genoa is celebrating Boccanegra’s victory over the rebels. Fiesco, who has been released from prison, encounters Paolo on his way to execution, and Paolo admits that he poisoned the Doge. Boccanegra staggers in, clearly on his last legs, though still capable of singing. Fiesco finally learns from the Doge that Amelia is his granddaughter. The old man weeps and tells Boccanegra that Paolo has poisoned him. Dying, the Doge blesses Amelia and Gabriele, naming Gabriele his successor (“Gran Dio, li benedici”).

Got that?

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