Major Operas | Simon Boccanegra by Giuseppe Verdi | High Romantic
Verdi’s dark, brooding opera Simon Boccanegra had a tortuous history before 24 March 1881, when its final version premiered at La Scala, Milan. Verdi composed Boccanegra in 1857, but the Venetian audience reacted coolly; an anti-Verdi claque sabotaged the performance and a false rumour spread, claiming that Verdi had written the libretto and made a mess of it.
A quarter of a century passed before the opera reappeared with extensively revised music and libretto. This time, it ran for 10 performances in Milan, but New York had to wait until 1932 and London until 1948.
Paolo and Pietro hope to gain power by electing Boccanegra as doge. He hopes it will enable him to marry Maria, the mother of his child, imprisoned by her father Fiesco. As Fiesco laments Maria’s death, Boccanegra arrives to make peace. Fiesco demands his grandchild, but the child is missing. As Boccanegra mourns Maria, he is hailed as doge.
25 years later, Amelia Grimaldi awaits her lover, Adorno. Boccanegra arrives; Amelia fears he will force her to marry Paolo. Adorno asks Amelia’s guardian Andrea (in fact Fiesco) for her hand; he consents. The doge sees a portrait of Maria and realizes that Amelia is his daughter. He refuses Paolo her hand, so Paolo plots her abduction. Adorno suspects Boccanegra of the attempted kidnap, but Amelia intervenes. Adorno is imprisoned and Paolo forced to curse the kidnappers; he obeys, cursing himself.
Paolo sends Pietro to free Adorno and poisons Boccanegra’s drink. He tries to persuade Andrea to kill Boccanegra and suggests to Adorno that Amelia and the doge are lovers. Amelia arrives; Adorno berates her, hiding as the doge enters. Boccanegra allows Amelia to marry Adorno and drinks the poison. Adorno goes to stab Boccanegra but Amelia prevents him. Learning that Boccanegra is her father, he pledges his life to him. An uprising is heard; if Adorno calms the people, Amelia will be his.
The rebellion is suppressed. The condemned Paolo tells Andrea about the poison; Andrea makes his peace with Boccanegra. The doge blesses Amelia and Adorno, naming the latter his successor before dying.
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