[Met Performance] CID:110120
United States Premiere
Simon Boccanegra {1} Metropolitan Opera House: 01/28/1932.
 (United States Premiere)
(Debut: Camillo Parravicini

Metropolitan Opera House
January 28, 1932
United States Premiere

Giuseppe Verdi--Francesco Maria Piave/Arrigo Boito

Simon Boccanegra........Lawrence Tibbett
Amelia..................Maria Müller
Gabriele Adorno.........Giovanni Martinelli
Jacopo Fiesco...........Ezio Pinza
Paolo Albiani...........Claudio Frigerio
Pietro..................Paolo Ananian
Maid....................Pearl Besuner
Captain.................Giordano Paltrinieri

Conductor...............Tullio Serafin

Director................Alexander Sanine
Set designer............Camillo Parravicini [Debut]

Simon Boccanegra received seven performances this season.

Review of W. J. Henderson in The New York Sun

Operas which were believed to be dead are now dug up and resuscitated because they are better than the new works which die a-borning. Verdi's "Simon Boccanegra" is fifty years old and was buried many lustrums agone. But it has had its European rebirth, and last night it was revived at the Metropolitan Opera House with splendors of scenery and attire and wit, musical pomp and circumstance. The resurrection was attended by a numerous company and there were loud rejoicings. The revised version which we heard last night was produced at La Scala on March 24, 1881, and may therefore be accepted as sufficiently venerable to please even Mr. Gatti-Casazza. The original cast numbered some of our own old friends, as Edouard de Reszke and Tamagno. We are not doing quite as well as that, but may survive.

The score of the work does not seem as jumbled as one would expect after the alterations and reconstructions. One might expect, however, to find in"Simon Boccanegra" something of the opulences of harmony and instrumentation which amazed the world when the composer of "Traviata" gave the world "Aida" in 1871. But the score of this work was not rewritten for the 1881 revival; it was merely revised. Therefore, in spite of the fact that he was already at work on "Otello" when he made the revised version of "Boccanegra", and that it occasionally discloses some of the methods of the great Shakespearian work, this second edition is more closely related to the "Don Carlos" style. The employment of long declamatory scenes point toward the master's third style, but the new type of melody which he found for "Otello" and the still more novel phraseology which enriched "Falstaff" are not even suggested. This is Verdi in his era of enormous political plots, conspiracies, and crimes; feudal despotisms grandiloquently voiced in pompous measures; dark passions dilineated in somber melodic phrases and gloomy instrumental utterances. The dramatic episodes are arranged with skill and there is a succession of effective scenes which unfortunately become heavier and more depressing as the work moves toward its conclusion. But on the whole "Simon Boccanegra" proved to be an opera of worth, revealing in every page the hand of the great master. There was plenty to admire and much to excite interest in the splendid staging and musical presentation of the opera. The whole setting was in character, spacious and commanding.

Lawrence Tibbett assumed the sins and responsibilities of Simon Boccanegra, around whom the whole work revolves. He achieved one of the artistic successes of his career by presenting a finely wrought characterization in which admirable singing and acting, appropriate costume, and skillful makeup were harmoniously combined. Mr. Tibbett's excursions into the realm of the motion picture have taught him much about dress, facial expression and gesture. He is now one of the best actors on the operatic stage. His Simon Boccanegra is a noteworthy addition to the Metropolitan's gallery of portraits.

Review of Pitts Sanborn in The New York Telegram

Then along came the all-embracing Verdian revival in Germany... Finally there is "Simon Boccanegra," treated last night to a premiere that was not only Metropolitan but American. Of Verdi's twenty-six operas the Metropolitan has staged an even dozen.

"Simon Boccanegra" in its first estate dates from 1857. "La Traviata" and "The Sicilian Vespers" were its immediate predecessors' "Aroldo" and "The Masked Ball" its successors. The public failed to take to "Simon Boccanegra." And Verdi himself withdrew it. Yet he believed in it, and after he composed "Aida" and the Requiem, he returned to it, along with "Don Carlos," and brought it out in revised form at Milan in 1881. The Verdi of 1881 was a vastly shrewder technician than the Verdi of 1857. One result is that the revised "Simon Boccanegra" stands with "Aida" and Otello" as a fine flower of Verdi's mature art.

An obstacle to the popularity of "Simon Boccanegra" has always been its gloomy complex and obscure libretto. Even Boito could not do a great deal to improve it, when Verdi called on him for help in the revision. Yet, as Francis Toye so well says in his invaluable book on Verdi, "underneath the jumble there is a noble, well-nigh Shakespearean conception that justifies Verdi's affection for the subject." Throughout, the opera is dominated by the majestic figure of Simon himself, who from corsair becomes Doge of Genoa. And this is one of the operas whose political aspect is as important as its human relations and complications.

There will be ample opportunity to speak of the music as repetitions make it familiar. For the moment it is perhaps enough to speak of the fidelity with which the score follows the sombre unrest of the play and in particular to dwell on the finale of Act I, which in its breadth, its pungent contrasts, its handling of masses and its cumulative power and splendor ranks with the second finale of "Aida" and the third finale of "Otello." There is also music of delicacy and charm in the preceding scene in the Grimaldi Garden, and the duet between Boccanegra and Maria is noteworthy. So in their several ways are the tenor air and the trio in Act II, and likewise the death of the Doge.

The production as a whole was one of the most careful and finished that the Metropolitan has offered. Warm praise must go to Mr. Serafin for his masterly and sympathetic supervision of the musical element and likewise to Mr. Setti for his training of the chorus. The stage direction of Mr. Sanine was also of a high order. If the set representing the Grimaldi Garden brought no great distinction to anybody, the square in Genoa before the Church of San Lorenzo at night and the last interior of the ducal palace are, after their rather old fashion, very fine indeed.

Though it seems that no member of the cast had ever appeared in "Simon Boccanegra" before, their performance in general was marked by a high degree of competence, and in the case of Lawrence Tibbett as Boccanegra and Ezio Pinza as Fiesco there were veritable personal triumphs. Mr. Tibbett seems to have modeled his Doge on the Czar Boris of Feodor Chaliapin-certainly a good model. In any event, it was an impersonation of rare quality, stately in presence, and wrought out vocally and dramatically with infinite and fastidious attention to detail. Mr. Tibbett's singing in the death scene adds more than a cubit to his artistic stature.

The function of Fiesco in the drama may not be of the clearest, but none the less the acting, the singing, the diction, the make-up of Mr. Pinza was such as one seldom has the privilege of observing. Mme. Mueller provided a graceful and comely Maria and her singing at its best was very good, though she made a secret of the words of the role. Mr. Martinelli as Maria's suitor, Gabriele Adorno, put much commendable singing to his credit. Mr. Frigerio and Mr. Ananian filled satisfactorily the sinister roles of Paolo and Pietro. The Metropolitan was filled with a really enthusiastic audience, which at the end gave the singers an ovation, recalling them more than twenty times.

Review of Oscar Thompson in The New York Post

Mr. Tibbett's singing of the titular part must be regarded as one of the outstanding achievements of his still unfolding career. It was beautifully controlled, rich and warm of quality and highly expressive. He was predictably happy as the young Boccanegra of the Prologue and he met resourcefully the far heavier requirements of the Council Scene. Conceivably, the role should be a more dominating, ever domineering, one than he made it. It is a role for a Chaliapin, and Mr. Tibbett in not that. But we doubt if any other baritone at the opera house could have succeeded as well.

In the Milan performances of the revised version in 1881, the baritone was Maurel, the bass Edouard de Reszke, and the tenor Tamagno, a trio scarcely to be challenged today. But Mr. Pinza was believable within striking distance of these giants of the past, with his admirable drawn and richly sung Fiesco. Mr. Martinelli labored manfully and thus earned the applause he got, but his was not singing to make a hopeless part materially less hopeless.

Mme. Mueller oversang and took flying leaps at some of her upper tones. When she permitted herself the luxury of vocal and bodily repose, her notes took on a much prettier quality. The role would seem to have been one written for Miss. Ponselle. In view of the indifferent tenor part, the opera would have benefited by her presence, to more purpose, we suspect, than did the unhappy "Notte di Zoraima." Mr. Frigerio gave resonant voice and its due measure of characterization to Paolo, and the lesser parts were capably bodied forth by Pearl Besuner, Paolo Ananian, and Giordano Paltrinieri.

Review of Olin Downes in The New York Times

The performance of the opera is most distinguished in the instances of the three principal men-Mr. Tibbett, the Boccanegra; Mr. Pinza, Fiesco, and Mr. Frigerio, admirable as Poalo Albiani, the gold-spinner. Mr. Tibbett did some excellent and dramatic singing. He was not always successful in representing the imposing figure of the Doge. Costuming, as well as bearing and gestures which did not quite come off. Mr. Pinza, however, was wholly in character, instinctively eloquent in action , sonorous in song. Of unusual dramatic significance was the young Mr. Frigerio's Paolo; and he has a very promising voice to reinforce him. Miss Mueller had a difficult vocal part which did not benefit her upper register. Mr. Martinelli had also a highly inconvenient tessitura, and his singing was uneven and sometimes hard and brittle. The chorus singing was of the first order. The scenic setting for color and magnificence, was among the finest the Metropolitan has given us in recent years. The enthusiasm of the audience, which necessitated many curtain calls, reached its height after the council scene of the first act.

Photograph of Lawrence Tibbett as the title role in Simon Boccanegra by Carlo Edwards.

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