Opera review: Simon Boccanegra, Perth Festival

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Was English Touring Opera wise to take on such a dark and weighty chunk of Verdi as Simon Boccanegra? On last night’s evidence in Perth – a tail-end performance in this current Spring tour – it seems to have bitten off slightly more than it can chew.

Perth Festival: Simon Boccanegra - Perth Theatre

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To ETO’s credit, James Conway’s production never pretends to be anything other than a bland practical solution to small-stage touring. But what it lacks is a strength of acting that gets behind the difficult characters – not least Boccanegra himself, a post-war prime minister in this updated production, with all the world railing against him – and really clarifies their reason for being there. Even from the vocal angle many of the performances fall short of cracking the nut. There are strong moody portrayals by Brendan Collins as Paolo and Charne Rochford as Adorno. And Elizabeth Llewelyn’s Amelia, magnificently expressive and brimming with complex emotions, is consistently attention-grabbing.

But the key characters fall short of completeness. Craig Smith’s Boccanegra, though well sung, is stiffly acted; Keel Watson’s Fiesco is cumbersome and vocally shaky.

They’re something incomplete, too, about the reduced score, which often pares the usually purring engine down to a thin sputter. Verdi’s music encompasses dark, rich colours and a gravitas capable of carrying the emotional burden on its own. There was nothing wrong with Michael Rosewell’s often moving musical direction here. But without the full toolbox at his disposal, there are limits to what he can do.