Today we’re listening to…
“Come in quest’ora bruna”, Amelia’s aria from Act I of the Italian opera Simon Boccanegra by Giuseppe Verdi. It’s the last day of Mirella Freni week, and to say that I struggled with which aria to include is an understatement!
🎧 Listen here (4 minute listen):
While I had another aria planned for today, I knew this was it as soon as I reconnected with this one. These gorgeous legato passages, coupled with Freni's perfect tone and power, make it impossible not to include. On Wednesday, we heard late Verdi (Falstaff, 1893). Today we’re listening to late middle Verdi (Simon Boccanegra first premiered in 1857 and was a bit of a flop, but Verdi revised the opera 24 years later and it was far more successful).
Simon Boccanegra is a gloomy piece. Suffice it to say: the plot is difficult to follow. Set in 14th-century Genoa, Italy, Genoa at the time is ruled by opposing groups of working-class and aristocrats. From the working class, Simon Boccanegra has fallen in love with Maria, the daughter of aristocrat Jacopo Fiesco, and they have a child. Fiesco has forbidden his daughter to marry someone of lower rank, and he has kept her in his palace. The baby girl (Amelia) has been taken by Boccanegra and is raised by a nurse. Twenty-five years later, Boccanegra meets an orphaned woman named Amelia Grimaldi, and discovers that she is his long-lost daughter.
In the aria “Come in quest’ora bruna”, Amelia remembers her childhood. She promises never to let the palace's surroundings (that she now lives in) make her forget her past.
How brightly shine the stars and sea at this dark hour!
How your shimmering light, oh moon, unites with the waves —
as if it were a loving embrace of two chaste hearts!
Yet what memory, do the stars and sea bring to the mind of a poor orphan girl?
Some think of Simon Boccanegra as Verdi’s most significant work, and others think it is a complete bore. I am somewhere in the middle (although it’s hard not to admire Verdi here or EVER frankly!). This aria is an awesome moment in Act I but the opera tends to go downhill (musically and dramatically) after this moment.
Like Falstaff, Simon Boccanegra is another example of “through-composed” where the dialogue is set against flowing orchestral music (with fewer stops and starts).
If you are looking for a good recording of the full opera, this is a good one (Claudio Abbado, La Scala Opera House Orchestra and Chorus & Piero Cappuccilli, Mirella Freni, Gianni Raimondi, Nicolai Ghiaurov).
Thank you for listening,