Impresii dintr-o altă lume
Giuseppe Verdi: SIMON BOCCANEGRA
February the 17th, 2013, on Sunday, Wiener Staatsoper
Conductor: Evelino Pido, Stage direction: Peter Stein
Plácido Domingo (Simon Boccanegra), Michele Pertusi (Jacopo Fiesco), Maija Kovalevska (Amelia Grimaldi), Roberto De Biasio (Gabriele Adorno), Marco Caria (Paolo Albiani), Dan Paul Dumitrescu (Pietro), etc.
When I first met Plácido Domingo, he was in a hall at the stage door of the State Opera in Vienna. The stage door keeper prepared his leaving and he was forced to keep the door closed as outside there were a lot of Viennese waiting for the tenor. He seemed young, anyway, younger than he really was. One could see from his eyes that he was young, young at heart. And he did not look bad at all, dressed in an elegant suit and looking like movie actors. My meeting him was relevant and the experience of this long good bye is an extraordinary one, which deserved to be told, the same as Philip Marlowe’s souvenirs in a novel by Raymond Chandler, a cynic forced, after an extraordinary experience, to give up exactly his cynicism…
A few hours before, I had arrived at the opera almost at the last minute. While I was leaving my coat at the cloakroom, I heard the first signal for curtain raising. I knew Peter Stein’s minimalist production, but I did not want to miss a single second of the performance. Maybe the word “production” is not suitable here, as the scenery is almost inexistent, what matters is the stage direction, the movement of the characters on the stage and maybe, most of all, the movement of the chorus. And the costumes. And the torches in act III, real torches that illuminate the battle field where the popolani defeated the guelfi. And Simon’s fallings at the end, when, worn away by poison, he sings divinely between life and death, between fainting and the reality of the power that has to consume him until his very last minute… The production is now old, but one does not notice this because, as I said, there was nothing to get old in it. The first time was in Salzburg, in 2002. Then, when Claudio Abbado returned after 14 years to conduct again opera in Italy, he conducted Simon Boccanegra in Firenze, using Peter Stein’s stage direction, in the same year. And in autumn it became permanent in Staatsoper, where the very good DVD with Gatti and Hampson was recorded.
The first to appear on stage were Paolo and Pietro, Marco Caria and Dan Paul Dumitrescu. They sang well, especially the latter, who has a timbre more interesting than Pertusi’s.
Outside, when everything was over, the Viennese who had lived their operatic youth seeing him on their stage for so many years, who had loved him so much, who had applauded him in Andrea Chénier so long that the performance could not continue for several minutes, all these Viennese were waiting for him. To greet him once again. The first to come was Pertusi. His Fiesco was not bad. It is a difficult part. A voice which is too deep and imposing, like Burchuladze’s (on the CD from the ‘90s, with Solti) crushes the character, a voice which is too light, a barytone one, may make it inconsistent, in fact, some musicologists saw in the old patrician Giuseppe Verdi’s musical self-portrait… This was not Pertusi’s ideal night, but he is une vraie bête de scène, convincing from the beginning to the end, any performance can rely on him. Il lacerato spirito did not shine in any particular way, but all the duets with Gabriele Adorno and with Simon were excellent. Including the one in the Prologue, when Plácido entered the stage like a storm, like in his youth, he looked like Manrico, Il trovatore, incredible! He even can still run…
But the people outside were waiting for him. The great super tenor. Vienna was more and more cold and quiet. Majia Kovalevska left the opera too. She really is beautiful, like she seemed to be on stage. Vedi in quest’ora bruna was flawless. She was very good and reminded me of Angela Gheorghiu in many moments, less the velvet in the voice, as her timbre is not so distinct. And yet, she really was Amelia, a girl nearly 27 years old, which is young in our days, but, in Petrarca’s times, she was a mature woman, capable of raising to the level of equality with her father, even if he was a doge, when it was about the love of her life. A maturity that Simon understands and accepts, and in the duet in act II, the one of the reunion, the one with such a beautiful and such Verdian music, the doge’s last words, sublimated in a falsetto with such a tender diminuendo, Filglia!, caused a rapture in the opera hall. A few tens of seconds until the end of the scene, the audience had nearly lost its patience. Because Simon’s love for his recently found daughter became an immense love of an audience that finds again its idol and waits for the first occasion to show this to him.
De Biasio came with the soprano, relaxed and glad to see people waiting for him, too. He did not stay much. His voice of lyric tenor made wonders, he is in another league than yesterday’s Pinkerton . He knew his part with all its nuances, stepping on the gas to the fullest when needed (Sento avvampar), being totally pious in his duet with Fiesco (Vieni a me, ti benedico), he did not let anything pass unfiltered, even his outbursts (Uom possente sei tu) were cerebral.
Plácido has not come out yet. He is not the type to avoid fans. This was the first performance of Verdi’s opera in a series of four in this season. He was adulated, got around 5 curtain calls, and stepped out on the stage each time, posing, but with modesty, he wanted to thank all the waves of applauses, he did not complain, he did not claim to be tired, he seemed amazed: “I have three more performances, you will see me again”.
Of course we will see him again. But this end of the doge who is dying on the stage, under our eyes, calling us too, Stringi… il morente al cor! This voice-phenomenon, this force of nature who surprised the entire planet as Mario Cavaradossi or Manrico or Otello, this voice that is fading out in a long good bye addressed to us, who were thrilled when listening to Vittoria! Vittoria!, who shivered when listening to Dio, mi potevi scagliar… and now…. Now a friend was telling me that Plácido does not have a voice for Simon, not a real voice for this part. Does this matter? He has all the rest, but including the voice or maybe the last glitterings of the voice capable to make you cry when you listen to him in the final scene, capable to make you want to answer, if you meet him face to face: Gran Dio, ti benedico/ Pietoso dall’empiro;/ A noi del suo martiro/ Cangia le spine al fior…
Evelino Pido left too, almost unnoticed outside the theatre, still so important in the pit. The orchestra was sublime, controlled with perfect elegance, so that everything can be heard, any mezza voce, any whisper, but having its own life, that of a warlike score in the prelude to act III or in the shakespearian vision of Boito’s painting, in
Otello’s the Doge’s council room.
Plácido did not come out. He invited us all inside. He does not want anyone to leave without giving him at least one moment. The stage door keeper opens the door and invites small groups of people. I look through the grating, I see him seated at a table, signing. “He is so handsome!”, this is all I can say.
It is the first time I see him on the stage and he is close to the end. He wanted to be Simon because this is the most beautiful good bye he could afford. A long good bye that had started in 2010, even if, meanwhile, his barytone repertoire has increased with Rigoletto and I due Foscari, the great good bye continues on the world’s stages, somehow better and better from the vocal point of view. Yesterday he sounded really much better than on the DVDs from London, New York or Scala, this phenomenon-person has this part in his pocket now. Which makes Tutto favella il sento, in me d’eternita completely move the soul of any music lover.
Gran Dio ti benedico, Placido… I am very close to him, only one meter away. The years have passed over his hair, which is now white, and over his beard, beautifully trimmed, and they have left on his face a distinction that very few can enjoy at his age. He is signing a program and is smiling, while we are telling him that we see him for the first time in our lives and we have come from Romania for this. He is smiling again, filled with that warmth only he is capable of, and he allows me to take a picture. His modesty is totally overwhelming. I am thoroughly moved and… I am a fan for the rest of my life.