Latest Review – Simon Boccanegra – The Hallé [The Bridgewater Hall, Manchester]

THE HALLÉ – SIMON BOCCANEGRA (ORIGINAL 1857 VERSION)

The Bridgewater Hall, Manchester

Thursday 18 April 2024

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

For more than 50 years, London-based Opera Rara has dedicated its time to restoring, recording and performing forgotten and lost opera works from the 19th and early 20th centuries, shedding new light on and giving fresh appreciation to countless lesser known operatic gems.

With just weeks to go before the great Sir Mark Elder (former Artistic Director of Opera Rara) steps down as Music Director of The Hallé – after 24 years in charge – the two companies have once again joined forces to present a concert version of the original 1857 version of Verdi’s historic opera, Simon Boccanegra, and what a special event it was.

Those lucky enough to be in attendance at Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall last night were treated to an absolute musical triumph, full of glorious music, sensational performances and haunting chorus work, and surely one of the finest moments of Elder’s storied tenure with The Hallé.

Based on the 1843 play of the same name by Spanish dramatist Antonio García Gutiérrez, Simon Boccanegra was first performed at Teatro La Fenice in March 1857 but came under heavy criticism and was met with disappointing public response. The opera then all but disappeared from performance in the years and decades that followed until Verdi presented a revised version of the work which premiered at La Scala in 1881. It is the more successful and better known 1881 version that is most often seen and performed today, though this new concert production sought to highlight the under-appreciated original version.

The two companies assembled quite the cast for this one-off event including Argentine baritone Germán Enrique Alcántara in the title role, Japanese soprano Eri Nakamura as Amelia, Peruvian tenor Iván Ayón-Rivas as Gabriele, and British bass William Thomas as Fiesco, with Italian baritone Sergio Vitale and British bass David Shipley rounding out the principal cast as Paolo and Pietro, respectively.

Stepping in at relatively short notice to replace the previously announced Nicola Alaimo, Alcántara gave a hugely commanding performance as Boccanegra and demonstrated a gloriously rich voice, elegance and real star charisma. Nakamura (again stepping in to replace Eleonora Buratto) sang beautifully and was given a fine opportunity to showcase that wonderfully pure soprano voice – full of warmth and colour – working beautifully with Ayón-Rivas, surely one of the finest and most exciting young tenors singing today. Outstanding work too from fellow rising star Thomas who showcased a strong and assured bass voice.

Staging opera concerts at the Bridgewater is always tricky with the orchestra being situated on stage along with the singers and not in a traditional orchestra pit, though despite the sound all coming out at the same level, the singers did a superb job in projecting above the music, with Elder ensuring both were perfectly balanced throughout without the music ever overwhelming the vocals.

The whole event was just impeccably staged. The house lights were never fully dimmed which gave everything a bright and lively feel. The choruses were moved around the stage and auditorium to give the piece an interesting dynamic. It felt fresh, dynamic, vibrant. There was never a dull moment to be had. Pacing fast and fluid throughout.

A thrilling night of extraordinary music and vocal performances with Elder demonstrating an absolute mastery of control, leading the magnificent orchestra and Chorus of Opera North in a truly outstanding performance of Verdi’s dramatic and richly detailed score. Such control, such exquisite precision. Audience and orchestra alike hanging on to every delicate movement of the baton. There was never a question of which version of Simon Boccanegra was the better. It was simply a chance to enjoy the lesser known of the two and allow it to flourish in its own right.


Running Time: 2 hours and 45 minutes (approx.), including one 20-minute interval.

Final Performance at The Bridgewater Hall, Manchester: Thursday 18 April 2024

For more information, and to book tickets, please CLICK HERE.

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