A bit of a Doge's dinner
OPERA: Simon Boccanegra; WNO, New Theatre Cardiff
Thursday 22 May 1997
The central strength of the show lies in Ralph Koltai's set: two mirrored side walls, a seascape backdrop, and a pair of free-hanging, infinitely mobile flats that serve both to define ever-changing acting areas and to symbolise the two sides of 14th-century Genoa's class-divided society: the one, a shiny, translucent, blue-veined palazzo facade, once proud but now tastefully distressed; the other, a rough sheet of earthy, rusty red, riven from top to bottom by a jagged crack (in token, perhaps, of the split that will eventually see the people's party tear itself apart). The weakness of the staging is that, within the bare simplicity of this set, the cast's vocal and dramatic shortcomings are all too painfully exposed.
Only Paul Charles Clarke's Gabriele Adorno seizes his moments, his narrow- bored tenor pinging heroically away in what, ironically, are the most out-moded, unreconstructed parts of this much-revised score. Alastair Miles's patrician Fiesco almost possesses all the bottom notes he needs, but lacks the physical stature, the sheer weight of years, to carry off the role of Boccanegra's avenging nemesis. As Amelia, alias Maria, the foundling girl whom Fiesco adopts and, all too late, discovers to be his very own grand-daughter, Nuccia Focile seems sorely over-strained, her high notes pinched, her tone unable to float above the great ensembles and pour down the requisite benedictions from above. Most miscast of all, Phillip Joll, the Boccanegra, simply lacks the warmth and humanity that must ooze from this old seadog's every pore; in the absence of any true legato, any ability to sing softly (casualties, surely, of too many Wotans at too early an age), this Doge's every statement - inner longing, as well as public pronouncement ("Peace and Love" his watchwords) - erupts at a barking forte, while any efforts at serious characterisation are sabotaged by the big girl's blouse he is made to wear. Carlo Rizzi's metronomic, over-loud conducting hardly helps.
In the great Act 1 Council Chamber scene - that inspired addition to the revised score, whereby the simple sorrowing father of the 1857 original is transformed into a visionary peacemaker, a prophet of the united Italy to come - Pountney offers only bathos: stick-insect Plebs and Patricians in red and blue robes, strutting about on stilts; poster-style tableaux vivants of Genoa's bloody history (rival chorus clans shoving away at their respective screens), or The People's longing for peace (all join hands and step to the front). The only poetry in the whole evening is the Petrarch canzone emblazoned across the back wall during Boccanegra's death - and even that only adds an entirely unwanted political subtext to the opera's most deeply personal moment.
Further perfs: 23, 28 May, New Theatre, Cardiff (01222878889); then touring
Review: Of Mice and Men
By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work
Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar
What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?
Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings
The actor has confessed to his own insecurities
Allotments are the focus of a new reality show
Arts & Ents blogs
The best movies on Netflix: 32 films that will end your endless scrolling
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'
Mrs Doubtfire 2: Robin Williams set to star in sequel to 1993 comedy
Record Store Day 2014: Best exclusives coming to a UK independent record shop near you
Grace Dent on TV: Game of Thrones has jumped the shark
The food poverty scandal that shames Britain: Nearly 1m people rely on handouts to eat – and benefit reforms may be to blame
US Navy christens huge $3 billion destroyer ship USS Zumwalt that appears as a fishing boat on enemy radar
Scottish independence: It is the English who should be on their knees, begging the Scots to vote ‘No’
Nigel Farage fatigue? Half of voters ‘immune’ to Ukip’s appeal
Nigel Farage on Have I Got News For You: Ukip leader ridiculed over expenses and party 'fruitcakes'
Nigel Farage: I’m taking on the status quo, and the Establishment’s fighting back
- 1 Are you turning into your dad? The top ten signs you've embraced dad-ism revealed as survey says 38 is age men turn into their father
- 2 Overheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
- 3 Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'
- 4 24 people applied for the 'world's toughest job', here are their interviews
- 5 Grace Dent on TV: Game of Thrones has jumped the shark