Boccanegra was not my favourite opera of Verdi’s and I had not intended to see
it in the foreseeable future. But
something happened, which changed my mind -
at one of London’s summer parties I have met Gleb Filshtinsky, a
lighting designer. He and his friend
Dmitri Tcherniakov were in the final days of completing the new production of
the Simon Boccanegra for ENO and the premiere was only in a couple of
days. So I got curious and decided to
have a go. Just to see the lighting
I am not
going to list all the makers and shakers
of that particular production. I am sure
you will be able to find all the names on the internet. And also I am not going into any details of
the actual performances on that day.
Everybody has their own taste and ideas, so I leave it at that. What I wanted to say – was the following...
performance (it was actually dress rehearsal) I had two surprises. The first one– the music sounded like it was
written by a young composer, just
beginning to write operas. It was very
simple, very melodic and totally within the rules of composition and harmony of
that time. Surprise indeed, considering
that it was Verdi’s 21st
opera, after such giants as Nabucco (1842), Macbeth (1847), Rigoletto (1851)
and La Traviata (1853). The ENO
orchestra, under batton of Edward Gardner, sounded very good. A bit too loud at
times, even covering the voices... but good. I can understand Edward – Verdi’s music begs
to be performed loudly and proudly J Or maybe it was just my impression
after listening too many modern operas with inept orchestration and chaotic
surprise was – the transfer of the action into modern day (well, not very
modern-modern, but definitely into the end of 20th century). Not the transfer itself, but the courage of
the Russian director Dmitri Tcherniakov to actually do it. The music is very simple, the action is very
ancient (pirates and stuff). All of it
does not sit very well with modern surroundings. In fact, the music and the set design on the
stage clashed. And lighting helped to
make that clash more evident. I was
disappointed. If it was to be set in a
modern day, it should have been at least with some shocking details, like
machine guns, mobile phones... or may be some vampires... etc. There was nothing of the sort. The set was very scarce and simple, almost
like in a prison. What was shocking – it
was the forced marriage of the set and the music. The performance went on regardless...
wrong. But, at the same time – it was
right. Justified. May be there should have been some more
details to make it more justified, or, at least more evident for being right...
On my way
home I was still thinking about it. The
music was still ringing in my ears and the images were unforgettable. The lighting certainly made it look
different. What was wrong?!?!?!
And then it
came to me. It was not an opera about 19th, or even 20th century Italy. It was about Russia around 1990 – 1995.
After Perestroika. Oligarkhs were
dividing the country’s assets between them.
All you need to do – is to change the names, put some Russian names
instead of Italian and that’s it. All
drops into proper places. And the stage
set – very soviet like, austere and boring...The music still clashes with the
set, but at least I understand now why.
of Dmitri Tcherniakov spotted the potential of the "Simon Boccanegra” and
used it to convey his own ideas... to
have his say... and the set and lighting design of Gleb Filshtinsky helped a
lot. Congratulations! Well done!
my-my!!! The old Verdi, the grey haired genius... in the middle of 19th
century writing an opera about Russia in 130 years time... Well, actually not
only about Russia. Similar situations
were, or could have been in some other places, in some other times... So now I
am thinking about Simon Boccanegra as an opera-archetype, as a symbol of a
situation, which could happen anywhere, anytime. I can easily imagine this opera set on some
distant planet, at any time in the future, or indeed in the past... with some
weird characters’ names and unbelievable stage decorations... And the music
could be still Verdi’s... that old man, that grey haired genius...