Opera Scotland

Simon Boccanegra 1978Scottish Opera

Read more about the opera Simon Boccanegra

Simon Boccanegra had not at this stage been performed in Scotland - when it was in the Sadler's Wells repertoire after the war they did not come north, and, astonishingly, it has never featured in Edinburgh Festival programmes.   With the success of the Giorgio Strehler production, conducted by Claudio Abbado, particularly on the Scala's 1976 Covent Garden visit, this masterpiece's continued absence from Scottish Opera's programme could no longer be ignored.

In the event, at its opening Peter Ebert's staging was accounted a near-miss.  It improved enormously on revival the following year, when it was sharpened up by staff director Graham Vick.  The combination of Peter Rice's simple basic set and Mario Vanarelli's effectively Italianate medieval costumes worked well under Victor Lockwood's well-varied lighting plot.

The undoubted success of the series was the role debut as Fiesco by Robert Lloyd.  This immediately became one of his most distinguished parts, quickly repeated at Covent Garden and later at the New York Met.  The voice was in beautiful condition, effortlrssly projecting Fiesco's varied moods of grief and anger, followed at last by his willingness to be reconciled to the dying Doge.  At the final performance Bill McCue also showed great promise, to be confirmed by further outings in the spring.

The role of Paolo Albiani, Simon's ally turned assassin, is usually given to young baritones who are almost ready for the big Verdi roles, and Donald Maxwell's balefully malicious characterisation showed clear signs of the excellent Iago he would soon sing in Wales, though never, sadly, in Scotland.  Malcolm Donnelly did, in fact, assume the title role in this staging with great accomplishment the following spring.

Jan Derksen's return visit in the title role, following the 1975 Ballo.  did not make as much impact this time.   The voice was a powerful but soft-focussed baritone showing signs, with benefit of hindsight, that he would soon re-emerge as a tenor, even singing Otello.  During Allen Cathcart's years as a regular performer with Scottish Opera,  Gabriele is the only Italian role he took on,  which seems a pity,  as it is a tricky,  slightly unsympathetic part,  which he projected well.

It is likely that the main problem with the entire run arose from the illness of the scheduled conductor and Amelia.   Lawrence Foster and Linda Esther Gray were forced to withdraw at a relatively late stage.  The replacement conductors were both excellent, and the American Henry Lewis returned to the company several times, for more Boccanegra performances, as well as The Golden Cockerel and Lucia.  It must be regretted that Sir Charles Mackerras conducted opera so rarely in Scotland, and no more Verdi until a concert performance of Macbeth at the Edinburgh Festival.

The Romanian soprano Gabriela Cegoleà, arriving with little time for acclimatisation or rehearsal,  was clearly at a disadvantage.  Her performance was patchy, with some squally patches that were not appropriate in this role.

Cast details are from the programme for the final performance on Thursday 19 October.


Scottish Opera's 1978-79 season

Scottish Opera's fourth season at the Theatre Royal (1978-79) opened with the Scottish premiere of  Simon Boccanegra, and continued with  Jenůfa,  Catiline Conspiracy  then an unusual triple-bill of  Savitri,  Fanny Robin  and  Dido and Aeneas.  Next came  Seraglio,  Rosenkavalier,  Hansel and Gretel,  Fledermaus,  Midsummer Night's Dream,  Bohème,  Kátya Kabanová and  Rigoletto.  In June there followed the company's first staging of a musical,  Fiddler on the Roof.  Many of these works were also toured.

Performance Cast

Paolo Albiani a goldsmith, initially a friend of Simon

Malcolm Donnelly (Exc Oct 14, 19)

Donald Maxwell (Oct 14, 19)

Pietro leader of the plebeians

Norman White

Simon Boccanegra a Genoese corsair, later Doge

Jan Derksen

Jacopo Fiesco a patrician, later disguised as Andrea Grimaldi

Robert Lloyd (Exc Oct 19)

William McCue (Oct 19)

Amelia Grimaldi in fact Maria, Simon's daughter

Gabriela Cegolèa

Gabriele Adorno a patrician, in love with Amelia

Allen Cathcart


Malcolm Aitken

Performance DatesSimon Boccanegra 1978

Map List

Theatre Royal, Glasgow | Glasgow

4 Oct, 19.15 7 Oct, 19.15 10 Oct, 19.15 14 Oct, 14.15 19 Oct, 19.15

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