The second production of Kentucky Opera's 2013-2014 season offers fans a rare treat -- one of the more rarely performed operas by composer Giuseppe Verdi. Verdi is justifiably famous for such classic operas as La Traviata, Rigoletto, and Aida. Simon Boccanegra, opening on November 15 with a matinee performance on November 17, brings together new faces in the cast and creative team as well as a bold design concept that updates the original time period of the 14th century to the years between the world wars when Fascism was taking hold in Italy.
Simon Boccanegra was first staged in 1857, but was completely revised in 1881 by Verdi. Based on the rather complicated politics of early Italy when Genoa was a city-state, this production takes the original backdrop of political intrigue and overlays it with the more accessible historical era of Benito Mussolini's Italy. The concept is the brainchild of Director David Lefkowich and set designer Peter Harrison, who uses the stark symmetry of Fascist architecture to create an atmosphere of danger and evoke the dark side of power and its excesses.
The human story concerns the powerful politician Boccanegra, who falls into a tangled web of deceit and betrayal when he encounters a long-lost daughter, Amelia, the result of a doomed love affair 25 years earlier in his career. There are two suitors for her hand, Gabriele Adorno, a young political enemy who plots against Boccanegra, and a favored courtier, Paolo, who Boccanegra initially encourages and then rejects. It is a fairly convoluted plot that involves a kidnapping attempt and poisoning -- the stuff of grand, tragic opera. No one is quite what they seem as buried secrets are revealed and Boccanegra eventually falls to his enemies.
Musically, conductor J. David Jackson describes Boccanegra as an opera of "duets and ensembles, explorations of human interaction on a scale between the intimate and gargantuan." If you want to do a little research before attending, in addition to the usual youtube clips that can be found, you should take full advantage of the Louisville Free Public Library's streaming music service from the Naxos Music Library . Completely free, patrons can access this great resource online with their library card and pin. My quick keyword search yielded a list of recordings from various singers and companies, as well as the full-length recording. No classical music fan should pass it up.
Baritone Malcolm MacKenzie (left) makes his Kentucky Opera debut in the title role, along with Russian-American soprano Inna Dukach as Amelia, and tenor Jason Slayden as Adorno.
In addition to these new faces, Henry County native Troy Cook  takes the pivotal role of Paolo, having last performed on the Kentucky stage in 2008. He has since gone on to perform with opera companies across the country, as well as making his debut in London with the Royal Opera, Covent Garden in Cosi Fan Tutte. For that performance, reviewers praised him  as a "well-schooled lyric baritone of ideal Mozartian weight, evenness, flexibility, and colour."
Tickets are available online from the Kentucky Center box office  or by calling 502-584-7777 ($34-$74). Friday's performance (Nov. 15) is at 8:00 pm and Sunday's (Nov. 17) is at 2:00 pm at the Brown Theatre, 315 W. Broadway.
[All photos courtesy of Kentucky Opera]
Watch a clip of Troy Cook performing an aria at the Patron Circle's event on Nov. 4: