Sometimes a video recording just seems to have it all and I would put the 2019 Salzburg Festival version of Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra in that category. It’s quite an interesting production but it’s the sheer quality of the music making that puts it in the very top bracket. It’s also technically very good in all departments.
Director Andreas Kriegenburg gives the piece a contemporary setting with characters mostly dressed in dark suits and the set looking like a palace might look if you got Diamond and Schmitt to design it. The schtick, such as it is, is extensive use of smartphones, tablets etc. In the Prologue we see lots of tweets most of which seem to be of a right wing populist nature, projected onto the set. The ladies of the chorus sort of conjure up Amelia’s first appearance with their tablets etc. The implication, I guess, is that this is a society riven by deep, and not entirely rational, divisions which is a pretty good description of Boccanegra’s Genoa or most any other Italian city in the same period. Mostly though the focus is on the characters and they are convincingly directed and all the principals can act. The chorus is also handled well so the story gets told clearly and effectively which is good because if this piece has a major weakness it’s a rather convoluted plot.
The singing is superb. I don’t know who gets top spot. Luca Salsi, in the title role, just oozes Verdi baritone class and is convincing in all the many moods of this character. He is rivalled by René Pape as Fiesco. The voice is beautiful and he has that knack of being dignified and sympathetic at the same time. It reminded me of his very fine Gurnemanz in Tcherniakov’s Parsifal in Berlin. Their chemistrty in the final confrontation scene is really good too. Marina Rebeka is also a fine and very sympathetic Amelia with a voice that is both powerful and easy to listen to. She’s well matched by tenor Charles Castronovo’s ardent tenor. He has great high notes and is a fine actor. Even the Paolo, André Heyboer, is really good. The ensembles are a thing of beauty.
The chorus, as usual the Konzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsoper, is quite excellent and the Wiener Philharmoniker is outstanding. Valery Gergiev gets them to produce a sound that is certainly beautiful but it’s even quite thrilling at times in the first two acts and fantastically sepulchral in colour in the closing scenes. It helps that the Blu-ray disk has outstanding sound in both the stereo and DTS-HD-MA mixes. It’s really rich with great bass extension.
Tiziano Mancini directs for video. It’s a good job. We are in the Großesfestspielhaus so it’s a wide stage and Kriegenburg makes full use of it much of the time. Mancini lets us see the whole thing when we need to which works with an excellent picture on Blu-ray. The usual DVD caveats apply here.There are no extras on the disk but there’s a decent essay in the booklet plus a synopsis and track listing. Subtitles are English, French, German, Korean and Japanese.
The catalogue is not well endowed with modern recordings of Simon Boccanegra so unless you have to have Domingo in the title role this is probably the one to get.