Simon Boccanegra is probably my favourite Verdi opera, aside from the incomparable Falstaff. The plot is convoluted, as usual, but it has many more serious overtones than Verdi's other librettos. No other great opera composer attempted to put a statesman on stage as an opera's principal character (unless you count Tito in Mozart's 'La Clemenza'), and Verdi succeeded brilliantly. The music is among the most beautiful and finely crafted that Verdi ever wrote, perhaps a little more subdued than usual. But what it lacks in overt passion it gains in intensity. Another reason for this work's greatness is the fact that Verdi revised the piece after he had become acquainted with Boito (librettist of Otello and Falstaff) and thus reworked parts of the score before embarking on Otello, notably the great Act Two finale, which clearly foreshadows elements of Otello in both its musical language, intensity and drama. Listen out for the wonderfully dramatic, almost Shakespearian, use of the chorus in this scene and throughout the work. The ending of the work is particularly moving, with great solemn chords in the orchestra funereally sounding out under a tolling bell, evoking the steady swell of the Mediterranean at night. Quite outstanding.
Undoubtedly it's a great work, and this recording is one of the best Verdi performances available. Freni conveys both beauty and passion through her dedicated reading. But then all the singers are wonderful, especially Ghiaurov and Carreras (in superlative form) but one singer holds the whole vocal performance together: Cappuccilli, perhaps the most impressive Simon on record since Tito Gobi. Abbado, predictably, conducts a wonderful studio performance recorded shortly after a successful stage production. Hence the entire enterprise gives the impression of a true theatrical experience. The sound, while not as detailed or spacious as modern DDD perhaps, is good and clear, the balance between voice and orchestra being just about right. The Scala orchestra has Verdi in its blood, and it shows. This recording is practically perfect in every way. Magnificent music, tremendous performances, a terrific story, superb conducting...why hesitate? It should be in every Verdian's collection.