Opera with a prologue and three acts on a libretto by Francesco Maria Piave
, from the play Simòn Bocanegra
by Antonio Garcia Gutiérrez.Première:
Venice, La Fenice Theatre, March 12th, 1857.
Prologue. Genoa in the 14th century. The ex Corsair Simon Boccanegra, a plebeian, is elected Doge through the manoeuvres of Pietro and Paolo. He marries Maria, daughter of the aristocratic Fiesco, and they have a daughter. But the baby disappears and Maria dies.
Act I. Twenty-five years have passed. Fiesco has brought up a foundling. No one knows it, but the girl is none other than Simone Boccanegra's daughter. Now her name is Amelia Grimaldi. Gabriele Adorno, of aristocratic family, is in love with her. Boccanegra wants to have her marry his faithful Paolo, and Amelia, to escape the danger, asks Gabriele to marry her right away. Boccanegra in the meantime sees a locket preserved by Amelia: it contains the picture of Maria, and he understands who the girl is and annuls the plans of marriage with Paolo. Adorno is arrested, accused of having killed a suitor who tried to abduct Amelia. She accuses Paolo of the attempted abduction. A curse will fall on the true guilty one.
Act II. In prison, Gabriele is persuaded by Paolo of an impure relationship between Boccanegra and Amelia. Once out of prison, he tries to kill the Doge, but Simon manages to explain the truth to him. In the meantime, Paolo has secretly administered to Simon Boccanegra, mixed in the wine, a slow poison.
Act III. A revolt of Genoese Guelphs against the Doge breaks out, but Gabriele manages to calm the agitation. By now Simon Boccanegra is dying. The perfidious Paolo is conducted to the gallows and the Doge, before expiring, blesses the marriage of Amelia and Gabriele.
The young man is elected Doge, to the joy of the Genoese who appreciate his gifts of justice and moderation.
In 1855, the Fenice Theatre of Venice asked Verdi for a new opera, but the contract was signed only a year later, when the composer had already seen the outline of a work by the playwright Antonio Garcia Gutiérrez: Simon Boccanegra. The Maestro started writing his own version while in Paris, where he got Giuseppe Montanelli to shave down and model the libretto Francesco Maria Piave had already finished, communicating to Piave his modifications by letter, fait accompli. The opera opened on March 12th, 1857, with baritone Leone Gilardoni as Simon Boccanegra, bass Giuseppe Etcheverry as Fiesco, baritone Giacomo Vercellini as Paolo, and soprano Luigia Bendazzi as Maria/Amalia. The opera was a clamorous flop, almost as bad as La traviata four years earlier.
Twenty-two years later, urged by his publisher and friend Ricordi, Verdi took the old score of Simon Boccanegra in hand once again, turning to Arrigo Boito for the modifications to Piave's libretto. The first act was completely revised; Verdi was inspired by two letters of Francesco Petrarca, one to the Doge of Genoa, Boccanegra himself, and the other to the Doge of Venice, condemning the fratricidal wars between the two republics; Petrarca's letter was to be used not only in the libretto, it was to appear on the stage as well.
With this and other modifications Simon Boccanegra was presented to the public at the Scala Theatre in Milan on March 24th, 1881.