Of great musical
finesse, Simon Boccanegra is an opera
that takes us on a voyage to the world of the Genoese doge - a politician and
former corsair, redeemed by his relationship with his daughter. After his
striking production of Aribert Reimann’s Lear
and Carmen by Georges Bizet, Calixto
Bieito returns to the Paris Opera to take up this neglected work by Verdi,
offering us a reading as sensitive as it is enlightening.
Simon Boccanegra is based on the eponymous work by the Spanish Romantic playwright, Antonio García Gutiérrez. What, in Verdi, remains of his drama?
The romantic aesthetic
fascinated Verdi, that of Schiller particularly, and of course, that of Spain.
In the subjects tackled by Spanish Romanticism, he found echoes of situations
familiar to him: a father love for his child; confrontations with death; hatred
and family feuds ... Themes that resonate strongly with Spanish history, past
and present. For me, the most emblematic work of Spanish identity belongs to
the Romantic period: the painting by Francisco Goya, The Second of May 1808 in Madrid. In it I perceive the
expression of the Latin spirit, explosive and rebellious. One might think that
the extreme behaviour portrayed in theatre or in the arts is the stuff of
mythology and is exaggerated. But it is not. This impetuosity is characteristic
of the Spanish, notably of people one meets in the villages, as is also the
case in Italian culture, where emotions are felt very intensely, even beyond
You once qualified this opera as a strange work... In what way is it strange?
Simon Boccanegra differs
noticeably from Verdi’s other operas, such as Il Trovatore or La Traviata.
The music is less well-known ... Verdi concentrated here on the characters and
their personalities. He sought to underline their depth of feeling. This makes
it a very complex opera from a psychological point of view, posing numerous
enigmas concerning Mankind and human nature. Verdi stripped away the varnish of
appearances in order to question the very essence of his characters and reveal
their intimate natures. This is also true of the treatment of the
father-daughter relationship which also appears in several of his other works.
In Simon Boccanegra, however, it is
more thoughtful and profound.
How do you envisage the interactions between the private and public spheres that punctuate the work from beginning to end?
policy has its origins in his love for his daughter, but also in her loss which
prompts him to seek a lost harmony. A quest that will unfortunately prove
sterile... The character’s sadness echoes today's world in which
disillusionment with humanity is every day palpable. As well as transforming
Gutiérrez’s text, Arrigo Boito’s inclusion in the libretto of Petrarch’s letter
calling for reconciliation confers on Simon a humanist dimension. His
exhortation for peace has not been common in the mouths of politicians, either
in Verdi’s day or in our own.
Simon Boccanegra is a work in which the sea is omnipresent. Have you tried to give the maritime image a more up-to-date, political resonance?
For Simon, the sea is
synonymous with freedom. The immigrant crisis reminds us daily that the sea is
also murderous. However, that wasn’t a theme I wished to take up. It didn’t
seem really opportune. Above all, I tried to explore what there is within
Simon, the memories he keeps locked inside him, the dreams, the nightmares.
Therefore I had to imagine a mental space, a refuge, that would allow him to
escape from his grief to the obscure zones of his soul and to find once more
the feeling of liberty that was once afforded him by the sea.