Boccanegra has initially been a failure and it kept Verdi very uneasy for many years. Eventually, in 1871 he descended into a spiritual crisis, doubting his talent and stopped composing any new operas for 15 years. Cause of this was mainly the ascendance of Richard Wagner, his great influence that by that time spread even into Italy. This difficult period in Verdi's life is wonderfully described by the great novelist, Franz Werfel.
One positive feature did come out during this period, that in 1881 Verdi completely revised the opera, fired his librettist and hired a new one, namely Arrigo Boito who became responsible for Otello and Falstaff, his supreme achievements at the end of his career.
The revised Simone Boccanegra is far superior to the old version, but due to its dark hued, declamatory score lacking great melodies it never achieved popularity until Abbado's advocacy and his landmark recording in 1977.
Other previous productions each had their respective virtues. Nothing surpasses the visual splendour of the Met release. Karita Mattila is unforgettable in the Abbado conducted Maggio Musicale Fiorentino version.
This strong, inspired and highly original production from the Vienna State Opera, directed by Peter Stein, avoids all `modernized' clichés. It is made timeless with minimalist sets and austere costumes. Gone are the resplendent of medieval palaces, Mediterranean villas and the sunlit Ligurian shore. The emphasis is on the characters and the drama.
The superb cast is headed by Thomas Hampson, one of our finest lyrical baritones. He sings with great beauty of tone and he is also an actor with total commitment to the role. Ferruccio Furlanetto, now reigning basso profundo and onetime favorite of Karajan, is a fierce and powerful Fiesco.
Chilean soprano Cristina Gallardo-Domas in fine voice is an endearing and affectionate Amelia.
Her lover, Miloslav Dvorsky is strong but a bit harsh and a more delicate bel-canto tenor would have been preferable.
As for the conducting, a lot of credit must go to Daniele Gatti, who with his tremendous Orchestra give an insightful, incisive, soul-searching and ultimately very powerful reading. Great DVD sound. Highly recommended.