Simon Boccanegra is an opera by Giuseppe Verdi. It is divided into a prologue and three acts. The libretto is by Francesco Maria Piave. The story was based on a play Simón Bocanegra (1843) by Antonio García Gutiérrez.
Simon Boccanegra was first performed at Teatro La Fenice, Venice on 12 March 1857. It was not very successful, and many years later Verdi made a lot of changes to it. He was helped by the writer Arrigo Boito who made changes to the plot. The new version was first performed at La Scala, Milan on 24 March 1881. This is the version that is normally performed today.
|Role||Voice type||Premiere Cast
12 March 1857
(Conductor: — )
24 March 1881
(Conductor: Franco Faccio)
|Simon Boccanegra, a corsair,
later the first Doge of Genoa
|baritone||Leone Giraldoni||Victor Maurel|
|Maria Boccanegra, his daughter,
known as Amelia Grimaldi
|soprano||Luigia Bendazzi||Anna d'Angeri|
|Jacopo Fiesco, a Genoese nobleman,
known as Andrea Grimaldi
|bass||Giuseppe Echeverria||Edouard de Reszke|
|Gabriele Adorno, a Genoese gentleman||tenor||Carlo Negrini||Francesco Tamagno|
|Paolo Albiani, a goldsmith and the
Doge’s favourite courtier
|baritone||Giacomo Vercellini||Federico Salvati|
|Pietro, a Genoese popular leader
|bass||Andrea Bellini||Giovanni Bianco|
|Captain of the Crossbowmen||tenor||Angelo Fiorentini|
|Amelia’s maid||mezzo-soprano||Fernanda Capelli|
|Soldiers, sailors, people, senators, the Doge’s court, prisoners – Chorus|
The story of the opera [change]
The story is supposed to take place in the middle of the 14th century in Genoa. Genoa (in Italian: Genova) is now a town in Italy, but in those days Italy was not yet one country, and Genoa, like Venice, was a small republic, ruled by a Doge (pronounced “Doadz” in English. It is an Italian word meaning “duke”). Until the time of this story the Doge had always been chosen from one of the rich patricians. The ordinary, common people (the plebeians), could not be chosen to be the Doge.
At the beginning of the story Fiesco is the Doge of Genoa. He has a daughter Maria. Maria has fallen in love with Simon Boccanegra who is a plebeian, so he would not be important enough to be allowed to marry her, even though he has become a hero because he has fought lots of pirates. Simon and Maria had a child, a young girl. After she was born she was given to an old woman to look after, but one day the old woman died and the small child wandered off alone. She was found wandering by the sea shore by Count Grimaldi who took her and looked after her as if she were his own child.
No one knows what has happened to the child. Count Grimaldi does not know who she is. He thinks she is an orphan.
When the opera begins, Paolo, the leader of the Plebeian party, persuades Pietro to encourage the plebeians to vote for Simon Boccanegra as the new doge of Genoa. Boccanegra arrives and agrees that he would be doge if he were chosen. Simon thinks this would make Fiesco allow him to marry Maria. For the past three months Fiesco has locked his daughter in the palace because she had had a child with Simon.
Maria dies (we never see her in the opera). Fiesco now laments the death of his daughter. Simon begs Fiesco to forgive him. Fiesco does not tell him Maria has just died. He promises to forgive him only if Simon lets him have his granddaughter. Simon explains he cannot because the child has disappeared. He goes into Maria’s room and finds she is dead. The people sing happily because Simon is the new Doge.
Act 1 [change]
The story of Act I takes place 25 years later. Simon is still the Doge. He has sent many of his enemies into exile and taken away their property. Count Grimaldi is one of the people who has been exiled. In the Grimaldi castle, Fiesco is calling himself Andrea Grimaldi so that people do not know who he is. He is plotting with Simon’s enemies to overthrow him. He does not know that his granddaughter (Simon’s daughter) is the young lady called Amelia Grimaldi who is living in the castle.
At the beginning of Act I we see Amelia singing a beautiful song about the morning and the sea and the stars. She has a lover, Gabriele Adorno. When he arrives she warns him of the dangers of political plotting. The news is brought that the Doge is coming. Amelia is worried that the Doge will make her marry Paolo, so she asks Gabriele to ask Andrea (who is actually Fiesco) immediately for permission for them to marry. Fiesco agrees. He tells Gabriele that she was a poor orphan who had been found (he does not realize that it is his granddaughter). Gabriele says that he does not care about that, so Fiesco blesses the marriage.
Simon enters. He tells her that Count Grimaldi is forgiven and can return home. He asks her whether she would like to marry Paolo, but she refuses. She tells him that she is an orphan and she shows him a locket with a picture of her mother. Simon realizes that Amelia is his long-lost daughter. They are very happy to have found one another. When Paolo enters, Simon tells him he cannot marry her. Paolo is furious and decides to kidnap Amelia.
In the next scene we see Simon surrounded by the plebeian and patrician members of his Council. They are discussing whether they should make peace with the republic of Venice. Suddenly a crowd enters shouting for death to Simon. They are chasing Gabriele. Gabriele confesses that he killed Lorenzino for trying to kidnap Amelia. As Lorenzino lay dying he had said that he had been told by an important person to kidnap her. Adorno guesses that Simon must have ordered the kidnapping. He is about to attack him when Amelia rushes in and stops the fight Simon arrests Gabriele. He realizes that Paolo must be the real kidnapper, and makes everybody (including Paolo) curse him. Simon and his daughter are left alone on stage at the end of the act.
Act 2 [change]
Paolo is frightened. He is furious with Simon and decides he must poison him. Fiesco and Gabriele are brought in. He tells Fiesco he can be free if he murders Simon. Fiesco refuses. Just as Fiesco and Gabriele are about to leave, Paolo asks Gabriele whether he knows Amelia is here in the palace having an affair with Simon. Gabriele is furious. When Amelia enters she denies the story. She tells Gabriele she loves him and tries to persuade him to leave, but Simon is coming and Gabriele hides.
Amelia tells Simon that she would die for Gabriele. Simon agrees to pardon him. He drinks from a poisoned glass of wine, which Paolo had put on the table, and falls asleep. Gabriele tries to kill him, but Amelia stops him. Simon wakes up. He tells Gabriele that Amelia is his daughter. Gabriele begs Simon for forgiveness and promises he will fight for him.
Act 3 [change]
This takes place in a great hall which looks out on the harbour. Fiesco has been set free, but Paolo is condemned to death for leading the uprising against the Doge. Paolo tells Fiesco that he has poisoned Simon. Fiesco goes to Simon, who is now dying (the poison is working slowly). Simon recognizes his old enemy who he thought was dead. He is happy to tell him that Amelia is his long-lost granddaughter. Fiesco feels terribly sad and tells Simon about the poison. Gabriele and Amelia have just got married. They find her father and grandfather are now friends. Simon asks for Gabriele to be the next Doge when he dies. Fiesco goes to the window and announces to the crowd that Gabriele Adorno is now the new Doge and that Simon Boccanegra is dead.
- Giuseppe Verdi – Simon Boccanegra. Dokumente – Materialien – Texte, Praesens Verlag, Vienna 2008. ISBN 978-3706904322
- The New Kobbe's Opera Book, ed. The Earl of Harewood and Antony Peattie, ISBN 009 1814103
- List of singers taken from Budden, Julian: The Operas of Verdi (Cassell), vol 2, p. 244.
- Budden, Julian: The Operas of Verdi (Cassell), vol 2, p. 267