On Thursday to Opera Australia’s Simon Boccanegra for the fourth time.

There is a kind of law of diminishing returns when you see a work so often in quick succession.  I think the second and third times were my most complete experiences, and on the second I was moved to tears at the appropriate moments.

By the fourth, as I said to Renato Palumbo (the conductor) and Giacomo Prestia (Fiesco) whom I ran into on the train home (I jumped on at St James and there they were! They got off at Museum.) you know too much how it is done.  What I didn’t quite properly explain is that what this mostly affects is the suspension of disbelief and the willingness to go along with the dramatic set-ups – it becomes more about the music and the details.

For example, on a third viewing, George Petean’s dramatic final stage fall didn’t quite so impress me, because I was ready for it and I could see a little through the technique.  (Maybe it was different and not so good, but I doubt that.)

The most well-known aria from this opera is Amelia’s from the beginning of Act I, Come in quest’ora bruna. That’s the one which Opera Australia link to on their web-page (cunningly cross-marketing to Nicole Car’s recording).

That’s an odd aria, not least because of the accompaniment figure in the high winds set against a kind of chugging bass in the low winds.  Nor is it really typical of the opera as a whole or, in my opinion, the best bit.  That’s probably the scene where Boccanegra takes the poison, Adorno resolves to kill him and then changes his mind on learning that Boccanegra is Amelia’s father.  This includes an applause-provoking aria by Adorno as he expresses his jealous rage (when he doesn’t know that SB is Amelia’s father), as well as the moment when SB takes the poison to which I have referred in a previous post.  After Adorno learns that Boccanegra is Amelia’s father, the scene concludes with a trio of reconciliation.  It’s in a slow triple time with triplets – effectively a compound triple time (but with dotted notes giving an expressive edge to this).

At the end of this is, to me, the most moving moment in the opera, sung by Boccanegra (the others join in when he approaches the cadence – that bit is clipped off in this primitive paste-out from the score – and then with the continuation in the second extract below):

SB extract 1

SB Score extract 2

That roughly translates in a word-by-word way as “Let of Italian friendship my tomb be the altar.”

Boccanegra has resolved to spare his would-be-assassin (which we all knew he would because the beloved Amelia is in love with Adorno and also because Adorno, has resiled from his murderous intent) but it’s linked into the big theme (especially in the 1881 rewrite) of Italian unity and the need to rise above historical enmities.  The irony of course is that Boccanegra’s tomb is on its way pretty soon regardless because of the poison but that’s a dramatic irony because none of the characters on stage knows that yet.

The point I’m labouring to make is that the musical materials are very simple (basically just a descending scale over a tenth rising back to the dominant) but it is the context that brings it all together.  It is a very beautiful moment and I have hardly been able to get it out of my head since – except, perhaps, when some of the other ear-worms (such as the Alarmi which follows just after) have crept to the surface.

OK, enough already.

It would be greedy and extravagant to go again.  I sensed that Palumbo and Prestia were bemused to learn that I had been even four times.  What they probably don’t realise is that here in Sydney we have to take our chances when they come.

House was maybe a bit better than previous weeknight performances though not by as much as one would desire.  Natalie Aroyan is growing into the role of Amelia.




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