Lyric Opera: “Simon Boccanegra”

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s “Simon Boccanegra” is a masterpiece for the ages.

It opened the evening of Monday, Oct. 16 and the Civic Opera House exploded with a house full of male voices of the highest caliber.

The cast is a lineup of men at the top of their game. Led by American baritone Thomas Hampson in the title role, the characters include Italian bass Ferruccio Furlanetto as Jacopo Fiesco, a member of the ruling family of Genoa, American tenor Frank Lopardo as Gabriele Adorno, Boccanegra’s political rival, and American baritone and Ryan Opera Center alumnus Quinn Kelsey as Paolo Albiani, who in the Prelude helps Boccanegra become Doge of Genoa.

There is only one female in this finely drawn drama — a young woman named Amelia, who is being raised as a Grimaldi, but is actually the love child of Boccanegra and Fiesco’s daughter Maria, who died when the child was quite young. For that tender role Lyric has engaged the golden voiced Bulgarian soprano Krassimira Stoyanova. Lissome and full of love, Amelia destiny is to heal the rift that threatens to shake Genoa’s government.

At every turn, Stoyanova matches and frequently surpasses her excellent male colleagues. She sings with passion and precision, hitting the high notes with ease and radiating elegance and strength in her middle range. She initially appears as a mystery woman with a murky lineage, but shimmering strings and flutes surround her opening aria, letting us know that she is the blest heroine.

The scene in which Boccanegra and Amelia realize that they are father and daughter is a genuine tearjerker. And should you not be moved, Verdi’s music will stab your heart, as the harp gently portrays their overwhelming happiness.

But this is grand opera, so no one can be happy for long. Amelia has fallen in love with Adorno. Paolo (remember him?) reappears and lies to Adorno, telling him Amelia is Boccanegra’s mistress. Paolo wants to Amelia to be his bride and when Boccanegra refuses, he poisons a carafe of water which the Doge unwittingly drinks.

Verdi doesn’t let him die, however, until there is a meltingly beautiful trio between Hampson, Stoyanova and Lopardo, a high point in this Olympian production.

The Lyric Opera orchestra, conducted by music director Sir Andrew Davis, played with grandeur and subtlety in Verdi’s often slender and frequently tender score. Michael Yeargan’s set was plain, with just a few pillars alternately suggested a public square, the Grimaldi gardens and parts of the ducal palace. Nothing was there to distract from the glorious drama unfolding in all those locales.

This is Verdi for the ages, don’t miss it. The opera’s running time is 2 hours and 55 minutes, allowing North Shore audiences at evening performances to take the 10:35 p.m. Metra train home from both Ogilvie and Union Stations.

Performances of “Simon Boccanegra” will be given at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 20, Oct. 24, Nov. 3, Nov. 6, and Nov. 9, as well as 2 p.m. Oct. 28 and Oct. 31 at the Civic Opera House, 20 North Wacker Drive, Chicago. For tickets, call 312-332-2244, ext 5600 or visit www.lyricopera.org.