SIMON BOCCANEGRA – Washes ashore for Opening Night at San Francisco Opera

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By Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Fine Arts Critic
Photo by Lynn Imanaka

Giuseppi Verdi’s SIMON BOCCANEGRA debuts in 1857 – following La Traviata and Les Vêpres Siciliennes – and then benefits from an 1881 re-write sandwiched in-between the premieres of Aïda and Otello. Plot-wise the opera volleys from obtuse to who’s on first. But the score is exquisite, almost easy-listening, and rich with opportunity for leading baritones and basses. The vocal demands of “Simon” are similar to those of Verdi’s other dramatic baritones – Rigoletto, Iago, Rodrigo (Don Carlos), etc. The singer develops the strength and texture along the way and then (if their careers sustain to their 40s) they become the major players of Olympian roles for world class opera companies. At almost 46 (get those birthday greetings in by October 16th), Dmitri Hvorostovsky is that stellar personage and San Francisco Opera is the place to Be.

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DMITRI HVOROSTOVSKY (Photo, Terrence McCarthy). – CD, Portrait

Although “Simon’s” role does not contain familiar concert-variety singles, it does offer the baritone to display a wide range of vocal colors and emotional outpourings. Throughout the opera’s three-hour length and as the character progresses through a 25-year time span, Mr. Hvorostovsky’s virile sound is consistently captivating and the range vibrant and secure. His versatility can be summed-up in the Act I, Scene 2 aria “Plebe! Patrizi!” (Plebeians! Patricians!). It demands a forceful High F# thrust of maestà (chutzpha) – “Voi nei fraterni lari” (Here brother turns against brother) – and then softens to a seductive plea, “E vo gridando: amor!” (I cry, “Love”!). And then – no room for applause, just keep plowing ahead.

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Act I, Scene 2. – Within these walls there is a villain who hears me and grows pale. Photo by Terrence McCarthy

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MARCUS HADDOCK (Adorno) and BARBARA FRITTOLI (Amelia). Photos, Terrence McCarthy

In fact, much of the production just moves along until whatever is next is next. The stage direction of David Edwards borders on traffic control – wait for the light to change, go left, go right. The conducting of Donald Runnicles was often sluggish, making an anxious First Night crowd wrapped to the gills in bow-ties and heavy throat jewelry (on an unusually hot summer night) more dubious than necessary about the opera and its selection as Season headliner. Soprano Barbara Frittoli’s “Amelia” was standard delivery and very old school histrionic. Lovely phrasing in the Act 1 cavatina, “Come in quest’ora bruna”, but lacking in the chills and thrills department throughout the night. Marcus Haddock, last seen as “Gustavus III” in the 2006 Opening Night production of Un Ballo in Maschera, delivered a fine interpretation of “Gabriele Adorno”, the would-be revolutionary against the Doge of Genoa and wannabe husband of his daughter. His Act II aria, “Sento avvampar nell’anima” (I feel a fire of jealousy) was wonderfully aggressive and polished by a resounding High A. Patrick Carfizzi was totally convincing as the irritating “Paolo Albiani” and assassin of Simon. Mr. Carfizzi’s upcoming engagements include appearances at the Metropolitan Opera, Seattle Opera, and debut as “Taddeo” in L’Italiana in Algeri at the Dallas Opera.

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PATRICK CARFIZZI (Paolo Albiani). Photo by Terrence McCarthy

Vitalij Kowaljow is a very pleasing bass. As “Jacopo Fiesco” – the grieving father and needlessly grieving grandfather of his unbeknownst granddaughter who has been living with him lo! these many years – Mr. Kowaljow was very compelling during his opening prayer to the Virgin, “A te l’estremo addio, palagio altero” (A last farewell to you, proud palace). Mr. Kowaljow will soon be applying his bass chops to the role of “Wotan” in Los Angeles Opera’s new Ring cycle. Baritone Kenneth Kellogg marks his San Francisco Opera debut in the role of “Pietro”. As a current Adler Fellow, Mr. Kellogg will return later in the season as “The Oracle” in IDOMENEO and “Colline” in LA BOHEME.

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VITALIJ KOWALJOW (Fiesco) and KENNETH KELLOGG (Pietro). Photos, Terrence McCarthy

BEST OF SHOW:

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JOHN and LUCY BUCHANAN

To order tickets on-line:
TUESDAY, September 9th, at 7:30 pm
FRIDAY, September 12th, at 8:00 pm
WEDNESDAY, September 17th, 7:30 pm
SUNDAY, September 21st, at 2:00 pm
WEDNESDAY, September 24th, 7:30 pm
SATURDAY, September 27th, 8:00 pm

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See Related: FINE ARTS CRITIC SEAN MARTINFIELD

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Seán Martinfield is a native San Franciscan. He is a Theatre Arts Graduate from San Francisco State University, a professional singer, and well-known private vocal coach to Bay Area actors and singers of all ages and persuasions. His clients have appeared in Broadway National Tours including Wicked, Aïda, Miss Saigon, Rent, Bye Bye Birdie, in theatres and cabarets throughout the Bay Area, and are regularly featured in major City events including Diva Fest, Gay Pride, and Halloween In The Castro. As an Internet consultant in vocal development and audition preparation he has published thousands of responses to those seeking his advice concerning singing techniques, professional and academic auditions, and careers in the Performing Arts. Mr. Martinfield’s Broadway clients have all profited from his vocal methodology, “The Belter’s Method”, which is being prepared for publication. If you want answers about your vocal technique, post him a question on AllExperts.com. If you would like to build up your vocal performance chops and participate in the Bay Area’s rich theatrical scene, e-mail him at: sean.martinfield@comcast.net.

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