Drawing on his New York connections, Levine cast four of the leading roles with Met stars. As Simon, the legendary 68-year-old Belgian bass-baritone Josû van Dam, a frequent BSO guest, gave a towering performance. I was astonished to learn that he was at the tail end of a cold. His voice is no longer as ripe or plush as it once was, but he conveyed both Boccanegra's backbone and the man's capacity for love, his ruthlessness and his nobility. Van Dam's voice grew thinner in the second half — was that due to age or his illness? Or was it the subtlety of his characterization? Boccanegra's death was the most moving scene in the opera.
Barbara Frittoli's clear, relatively textureless soprano was ideal for the innocent yet strong Amelia. Her voice reached effortlessly into the stratosphere, though at the first of these concerts, she had no trill, and so one of Verdi's most exquisite touches remained unheard. Italian tenor Marcello Giordani, last season's Aeneas in the BSO's great performances of Berlioz's Les Troyens, has power to spare and an ideal Verdi ring. He's not much of an actor, and his continual scooping up to the notes became an irritating mannerism, but he nailed his big aria and brought down the house. The remnants of bronchitis compromised the efforts of veteran American bass-baritone James Morris, as Fiesco, Boccanegra's longstanding nemesis and Amelia's secret grandfather. He was replaced in the Saturday concert by a younger Met regular, bass Raymond Aceto, who two nights earlier had made a strong impression as Paolo's sinister henchman, Pietro. And as Paolo, rising Sicilian baritone Nicola Alaimo made the single most powerful impression, projecting wiliness and desperation with his focused, resonating dark tone. If he plays comedy (he sings Falstaff and Leporello) as well as he plays malice, he could become a real operatic force.
In the greatest performances of the Council Chamber scene, the solo voices sail over the chorus and orchestra like an aurora borealis over a roiling ocean. The BSO singers were more embedded in the texture, which both diminished and (in a way) humanized them. The real heroes of this performance were Levine, the orchestra, and John Oliver's Tanglewood Festival Chorus (some 125 voices). The men in the chorus stood in the middle, so that this opera's fundamentally dark undercurrent was smack in the center, surrounded by the women's radiant voices. Singing as usual without scores, and with even more than usual precision and character, the TFC also exploded into convincing angry-mob cacophony. And the orchestra, too, played not only magnificently (those wonderful brasses) but in character, with Levine weaving a spellbinding tapestry, darkness visible shot through with glinting threads of gold.
The Celebrity Series of Boston treated a capacity crowd at Jordan Hall to Boston's first joint recital by two stellar young musicians more familiar here separately through their concerto appearances with the BSO: German violinist Christian Tetzlaff (44) and Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes (38). The playing was on the highest order of polish and interplay. These serious (and sometimes amusing) musicians, frequent chamber-music partners, really listen and respond to each other. And though in retrospect I half agree with some friends that the program didn't quite add up to more than its mostly lighter-weight parts, I was delighted by the unusual selection and perverse order (mainly reverse-chronological).