Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra is an opera deeply set in the historical political turmoil of Genoa in the years 1339-1363, but at its heart it is a story of familial love and grief which transcends history.
A child born out of wedlock, to the daughter of a wealthy family, is hidden away by her father until the two of them can be reunited. He puts her into the care of an old lady, while he is working at sea. When the old lady watching over her dies, the young girl wanders until no one could find her.
Her distraught father tries to visit the child’s mother, but she is being kept from him by her family. Before he has chance to see her again, she dies. Now, the two distraught fathers cannot make amends until the grandfather can hold his granddaughter in his arms.
Twenty-five years later, in a convent near Pisa, another family loses their daughter. An orphan girl steps in to take her place so that family’s fortune does not go to the state. A man who remembers the loss of his own daughter takes her in, and protects her. In a story of corruption, plotting, vengeance, and suspense, a lost daughter is found and reunited with her father, and her grandfather, despite being under their protection all along.
Opera in 3 acts (1881 revision)
Sung in Italian
About 2 hours 20 min + intervals
The middle of the 14th century in and around Genoa
A piazza in front of the Fieschi palace
Paolo Albiani, a plebeian, tells his ally Pietro that in the forthcoming election of the Doge, his choice for the plebeian candidate is Simon Boccanegra. Boccanegra arrives and is persuaded to stand when Paolo hints that if Boccanegra becomes Doge, the aristocratic Jacopo Fiesco will surely allow him to wed his daughter Maria. When Boccanegra has gone, Paolo gossips about Boccanegra's love affair with Maria Fiesco – Boccanegra and Maria have had a child, and the furious Fiesco has locked his daughter away in his palace. Pietro rallies a crowd of citizens to support Boccanegra. After the crowd has dispersed, Fiesco comes out of his palace, stricken with grief; Maria has just died (Il lacerato spirito – "The tortured soul of a sad father"). He swears vengeance on Boccanegra for destroying his family. When he meets Boccanegra he does not inform him of Maria's death. Boccanegra offers reconciliation and Fiesco promises clemency only if Boccanegra lets him have his granddaughter. Boccanegra explains he cannot because the child, put in the care of a nurse, has vanished. He enters the palace and finds the body of his beloved just before crowds pour in, hailing him as the new Doge.
A garden in the Grimaldi palace, before sunrise
Amelia is awaiting her lover, Gabriele Adorno (Aria:Come in quest'ora bruna – "How in the morning light / The sea and stars shine brightly"). She suspects him of plotting against the Doge and when he arrives she warns him of the dangers of political conspiracy. Word arrives that the Doge is coming. Amelia, fearing that the Doge will force her to marry Paolo, now his councilor, urges Adorno to ask her guardian Andrea (in reality, Fiesco) for permission for them to marry: Sì, sì dell'ara il giubilo / contrasti il fato avverso – "Yes, let the joy of marriage be set against unkind fate".
Fiesco reveals to Adorno that Amelia is not a Grimaldi, but a foundling adopted by the family. When Adorno says that he does not care, Fiesco blesses the marriage. Boccanegra enters and tells Amelia that he has pardoned her exiled brothers. She tells him that she is in love, but not with Paolo, whom she refuses to marry. Boccanegra has no desire to force Amelia into a marriage against her will. She tells him that she was adopted and that she has one souvenir of her mother, a picture in a locket. The two compare Amelia's picture with Boccanegra's, and Boccanegra realizes that she is his long-lost daughter. Finally reunited, they are overcome with joy. Amelia goes into the palace. Soon after, Paolo arrives to find out if Amelia has accepted him. Boccanegra tells him that the marriage will not take place. Furious, Paolo arranges for Amelia to be kidnapped.
The council chamber
The Doge encourages his councillors to make peace with Venice. He is interrupted by the sounds of a mob calling for blood. Paolo suspects that his kidnapping plot has failed. The Doge prevents anyone leaving the council chamber and orders the doors to be thrown open. A crowd bursts in, chasing Adorno. Adorno confesses to killing Lorenzino, a plebeian, who had kidnapped Amelia, claiming to have done so at the order of a high-ranking official.
Adorno incorrectly guesses the official was Boccanegra and is about to attack him when Amelia rushes in and stops him (Aria: Nell'ora soave – "At that sweet hour which invites ecstasy / I was walking alone by the sea"). She describes her abduction and escape. Before she is able to identify her kidnapper, fighting breaks out once more.
Boccanegra establishes order and has Adorno arrested for the night (Aria: Plebe! Patrizi! Popolo! – "Plebeians! Patricians! Inheritors / Of a fierce history"). He orders the crowd to make peace and they praise his mercy. Realizing that Paolo is responsible for the kidnapping, Boccanegra places him in charge of finding the culprit. He then makes everyone, including Paolo, utter a curse on the kidnapper.
The Doge's apartments
Paolo has imprisoned Fiesco. Determined to kill Boccanegra, Paolo pours a slow-acting poison into the Doge's water, and then tries to convince Fiesco to murder Boccanegra in return for his freedom. Fiesco refuses. Paolo next suggests to Adorno that Amelia is the Doge's mistress, hoping Adorno will murder Boccanegra in a jealous rage. Adorno is furious (Aria: Sento avvampar nell'anima – "I feel a furious jealousy / Setting my soul on fire").
Amelia enters the Doge's apartments, seeming to confirm Adorno's suspicions, and he angrily accuses her of infidelity. She claims only to love him, but cannot reveal her secret – that Boccanegra is her father – because Adorno's family were killed by the Doge. Adorno hides as Boccanegra is heard approaching. Amelia confesses to Boccanegra that she is in love with his enemy Adorno. Boccanegra is angry, but tells his daughter that if the young nobleman changes his ways, he may pardon him. He asks Amelia to leave, and then takes a drink of the poisoned water, which Paolo has placed on the table. He falls asleep. Adorno emerges and is about to kill Boccanegra, when Amelia returns in time to stop him.
Boccanegra wakes and reveals to Adorno that Amelia is his daughter. Adorno begs for Amelia's forgiveness (Trio: Perdon, Amelia ... Indomito – "Forgive me, Amelia ... A wild, / Jealous love was mine"). Noises of fighting are heard – Paolo has stirred up a revolution against the Doge. Adorno promises to fight for Boccanegra, who vows that Adorno shall marry Amelia if he can crush the rebels.
Inside the Doge's palace
The uprising against the Doge has been put down. Paolo has been condemned to death for fighting with the rebels against the Doge. Fiesco is released from prison by the Doge's men. On his way to the scaffold, Paolo boasts to Fiesco that he has poisoned Boccanegra. Fiesco is deeply shocked. He confronts Boccanegra, who is now dying from Paolo's poison. Boccanegra recognizes his old enemy and tells Fiesco that Amelia is his granddaughter. Fiesco feels great remorse and tells Boccanegra about the poison. Adorno and Amelia, newly married, arrive to find the two men reconciled. Boccanegra tells Amelia that Fiesco is her grandfather and, before he dies, names Adorno his successor. The crowd mourns the death of the Doge.
Simon Boccanegra – Baritone (dramatic)
A corsair, later the first Doge of Genoa
Jacopo Fiesco – Bass (lyric)
A Genoese nobleman, known as Andrea Grimaldi
Maria Boccanegra (Amelia) – Soprano (spinto)
Jacopo Fiesco's adopted daughter and actual granddaughter, known as Amelia Grimaldi
Gabriele Adorno – Tenor (Helden/dramatic)
A Genoese gentleman
Paolo Albiani – Baritone
A goldsmith and the Doge's favourite courtier
Pietro – Bass
A Genoese popular leader and courtier
Captain of the Crossbowmen – Tenor
Amelia's maid – Mezzo-soprano
Place of birth: Le Roncole, Italy
Place of death: Milan, Italy
Verdi is one of our most beloved opera composers with hits like Rigoletto, Aida and Falstaff. He was a very productive composer, writing nearly 30 operas spanning from 1839 to 1893.
In his twenties tragic events unfolded when Verdi lost his two children in infancy and shortly thereafter his first wife. He remarried years later to the renowned soprano Giuseppina Strepponi who became his life companion.
Verdi is known for modernising Italian opera by writing long passages of through-composed music and unifying acts for a more continuous dramatic development. This is more noticeable in his later works. He came to dominate the opera scene after an era of bel canto composers such as Rossini, Donizetti and Bellini.
“To copy the truth can be a good thing, but to invent the truth is better, much better. ”
Verdi was a food lover, adored Shakespeare and the only piece of chamber music he wrote was a string quartet.
Verdi and Wagner were born in the same year. They were known to be rivals even though they never met.
Most prominent operas
I masnadieri 1847
Luisa Miller 1849
Il trovatore 1853
La traviata 1853
I vespri Siciliani 1855
Simon Boccanegra 1857
Un ballo in maschera 1859
La forza del destino 1862
Don Carlo 1867
The Italian libretto was written by Francesco Maria Piave, based on the play Simón Bocanegra (1843) by Antonio García Gutiérrez. Thanks to Giulio Ricordi persuading Verdi to make changes, the libretto was revised 23 years later by the young Arrigo Boito. The later version premiered in 1881 at La Scala in Milano. It is the one most frequently performed today. Verdi and Boito then continued to collaborate on Verdi's two last operas Otello and Falstaff.
Francesco Maria Piave was an Italian librettist, journalist, translator, poet and stage manager at Teatro La Fenice in Venice. He wrote 10 librettos for Verdi of which Rigoletto and La traviata are the most well known. Both operas have a very clear musical form. With Piave, Verdi was allowed to decide how the story would be told in terms of the musical structure and arrangement of pieces.
Piave also wrote librettos for other popular composers of his day. He was even commissioned to write the libretto for Aida but suffered a stroke and could not speak. When Piave died, Verdi helped to support his family and he also paid for his funeral.
Arrigo Boito was and Italian librettist, poet, novelist, journalist and composer. He is most known for writing the librettos to Verdi's two last operas, Otello and Falstaff, as well as writing the libretto for La Gioconda by Ponchielli. His only completed opera, Mefistofele, to which he wrote both music and text, is still frequently played today.
2d1, 2, 2+1, 2 - 4, 2, 3, 1
timp, perc, harp, strings
Stage: 2 trumpets (or more), harp, 2 trombones, bells
The first version of Simon Boccanegra premiered at Teatro la Fenice in Venice in 1857. The second revised by Arrigo Boito including the now-famous Council Chamber scene premiered at La Scala in Milano in 1881.
Aria - A te l'estremo addio... Il lacerato spirito (Jacopo Fiesco)
Aria – Come in quest'ora bruna (Amelia)
Aria – Plebe Patrizi Popolo! (Simon Boccanegra)
Aria - Cielo pietoso, rendila (Gabriele Adorno)
Duet – Figlia! A tal nome io palpito (Simon Boccanegra, Amelia)
Duet - Piango, perché mi parla (Jacopo Fiesco, Simon Boccanegra)