Simon Boccanegra – review

Curve, Leicester

With its need for a sizeable chorus and an orchestra that can pack a real punch, Simon Boccanegra would generally be beyond English Touring Opera's capabilities. But a grant from the Peter Moores Foundation Swansong Project has enabled the company to make a rare venture into Verdi, getting more bodies on stage and into the pit than I've ever seen before in an ETO show.

James Conway's production pitchforks the action from the 14th to the mid-20th century, setting the prologue in Italy in the immediate aftermath of the second world war, and the main action in the 1970s, the "years of lead", when Italian politics were even more chaotic than they are today. Samal Black's austere, rather chilly sets don't give much away, but his costumes fix the settings well enough, while the surtitles reveal that Craig Smith's Boccanegra has been a black-marketeer rather than a pirate, and becomes prime minister instead of Doge of Genoa, while his implacable enemy Fiesco (Keel Watson) is a mafia boss.

Apart from a model ship that is periodically left on stage, there is not much sense of the sea, and the political undercurrents remain rather ill-defined. Perhaps that's intentional. Conway tells the story as clearly as the convoluted plot allows, and conductor Michael Rosewell ensures the flavour is credibly Verdian, even if some of the burnished textures require the depth and richness an even larger band would bring.

With the exception of Elizabeth Llewellyn's gleaming Amelia and Grant Doyle's haunted Paolo, the singing is serviceable at best, and never quite as Italianate as it needs to be. But the dramatic power and intensity of one of Verdi's greatest achievements are always unmistakable, and that's the most important thing.

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Contributor

Andrew Clements

The GuardianTramp

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