It is quite extroadinary (a disgrace?) that this marvellous 1984 version of Simon Boccanegra should have been consigned to the unwarranted oblivion of the Met's archives for well over twenty years. Marketing strategies being what they are one suspects that the decision was made to "push" the Met's 1995 version as the more commercially viable alternative. This very well staged version boasts the household names of Placido Domingo and Kiri Te Kanawa and is also the production used in 2010 for Domingo's elevation from the tenor role of Gabriele Adorno to the baritone title role. The 1984 production under review, also under the baton of James Levine, was not issued on DVD until 2008. Expertly staged by the uncredited Pier Luigi Pizzi with great emphasis on both height and space the production is certainly the equal of the better known version of 1995. Filmed by the very experienced Brian Large and marketed at a very acceptable price the DVD is a great plus to a Verdi collection.
The production is a tribute to two Met stalwarts. An accomplished and very experienced baritone Sherrill Milnes gives a mighty and carefully detailed portrayal. Here it is hard to believe that the singer could be bettered in the role. His delightful discovery that Amelia is his long lost daughter is especially well handled and draws attention to the composer's continuing interest in the complexities of father/daughter relationships. In the sturdy bass role of Jacopo Fiesco the Met's resident bass Paul Pliska is also very impressive. In recent years the singer has been obliged to take smaller and less demanding roles but in the early 1980s his voice was then at its very best. The baritone/bass duets in act three when the two long term antagonists finally reconcile are among the hight points of the production.
A great plus to the production is the presence of the rather matronly looking Anna Tomowa-Sintow. Possessing a strong, rich tone and a fine technique the soprano is also an expressive, gifted actress. The celebrated climax of act one, set in the Council Chamber of the Doge's palace, cannot be bettered. Here Pizzi's towering sets and traditional costumes are seen to great advantage and provide a splendid backdrop to the soprano's great accomplishments as she soars above the ensemble singers.
The role of Gabriele Adorno is not regarded as one of Verdi's great tenor outings and here Placido Domingo is often regarded as the greatest recent exponent of the role. Vasile Moldoveanu, until know a singer unknown to me, simply cannot match Domingo's famous stage presence. His voice is adequate but as an actor his performance is that of the stand and deliver variety with added artifical hand gestures. He is at his best in act two when he delivers a spirited "Sento avvampar nell'anima"
Simon Boccanegra is often regarded as a quartet affair but here Richard J Clark deserves credit for doing well in the rather unrewarding role of Paolo, the villain of the piece. He gives an interesting and well sung version of a role often relegated to the sidelines. A conspirator in the tradion of Iago, this Paolo is very effective in the climax of the Council Chamber scene when the character is obliged to pronounce a curse upon himself.
The current DVD market is well served with productions of Simon Boccanegra and all those staged by the Met and Covent Garden are very acceptable. Potential purchasers are well advised to avoid the over priced 1976 offering from Tokyo. With such participants as Piero Cappuccilli, Katia Ricciarelli and Nicolai Ghiaurov much could have been expected but enjoyment is ruined by imperfect sound and dreadful picture quality.