Saturday, September 13, 2008

"Simon Boccanegra" at the San Francisco Opera


Last night we watched Simon Boccanegra, an opera by Verdi, written in 1881.  The San Francisco Opera production featured Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Ana Maria Martinez in the lead roles.

Apparently Verdi writes about father-daughter relationships a lot, and this one had a lot of that topic.  The play opens with a father (Fiesco) whose daughter (Maria) has become pregnant out of wedlock by Simon Boccanegra, and had a daughter herself.  Maria never enters the stage, and her father has an entire aria dedicated to how upset he is that she is no longer a virgin, and how much he wants to confront Simon.  Of course Simon walks onstage and they procede to have a combatitive duet together, where Simon is seeking the love of his psudeo-father-in-law, and of course receives only curses.  We then find out that Simon and Maria's baby daughter has disappeared, and Maria is dying.  On this same night that Maria dies, Simon is elected Doge(?!).  And all this is Act One.

Acts 2-5 happen 25 years later, and we meet the grown-up Amelia, Simon and Maria's long-lost daughter.  She has been raised by a titled wealthy family and does not know that her father is the Doge.  She is also in love with Doge Simon's enemy, Gabriele Adorno, who is leading a rebellion against him.  Chaos ensues.

So the primary themes I got out of this play were all around the relationship between the father, daughter, and daughter's lover.  The play contemplates the tension that can arise between a father and his daughter's beloved, which is something that I cannot relate to well (Will is pretty much the perfect guy, and Dad is very nice to him).  The larger theme that did resonate strongly with me was the concept of peace and love in a time of war, which Simon in his role as Doge repeated over and over.  It was great to see an opera preaching patience and harmony rather than discord, and I did wonder if San Francisco Opera chose this opera with this theme on purpose to comment on these times of war.

I enjoyed this experience immensely, mostly because I found the opera more accessible than any other I had seen.  All of my training in Shakespearean plot lines and themes were relevant to this storyline (it was structured like a classic Shakespeare and contained plot elements similar to those in Shakespeare plays: Should I murder this older man?  A newfound daughter!  My family hates my choice of mate!  ... and even an Iago).  Also my converations with Jason Williams about the five-act structure were helpful to understanding the rhythm and rise of the plot.

I had a great conversation with Will about how much artifice vs. realism is in a piece, and we decided that for all high art forms with opaque constructions (Shakespeare, opera, ballet, kabuki, etc):
  • Upon first contact, the high levels of construction/artifice surrounding the piece interfere with understanding and make the piece more opaque;
  • But as the viewer becomes more and more accustomed and knowledgeable about the piece, the artifice becomes easier to understand and enhances the message.
The only other opera that I have enjoyed was Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro; and the ballet that Will and I enjoyed together was Sylvia by the San Francisco Ballet (tragically not a Yuan Yuan Tan performance, break my heart).  SO -- this tells me that we like classical, high art forms -- but it needs to have a GREAT plotline that moves quickly throughout.