Giuseppe Verdi composed the first version of the opera to commission for Venice’s Teatro La Fenice. The author of the libretto was Francesco Maria Piave, who worked with Verdi on Macbeth, La traviata, Rigoletto, etc. They based the opera on Antonio García Gutiérrez’s drama Simón Bocanegra, dating from 1843. A similar subject had previously been treated by Friedrich Schiller in his drama Fiesco, or Fiesco's Conspiracy at Genoa (1783). The Venice premiere on 12 March 1857 and, in particular, the new opera’s staging at Milan’s La Scala (1859) were flops. On 24 March 1881, Simon Boccanegra was again performed in Milan, yet in a revised version, co-created by the librettist Arrigo Boito. The modifications were instigated by Verdi’s publisher Giulio Ricordi, thus evincing his sense of quality. The revised opera met with an enthusiastic response, and it can still be deemed one of Verdi’s masterpieces. The music is characterised by through-composed structure, the dramatic and mood-evoking roles of the orchestra and lush melodiousness. The action takes place circa 1350 in Genoa and environs, depicting political and amorous struggles between two feuding parties which end with conciliation and a wedding, as well as the titular hero’s assassination.
In the history of the National Theatre, Simon Boccanegra has only been staged in a single production, back in 1971. To mark the bicentenary of Giuseppe Verdi’s birth, we present the production directed by David Pountney and with Ralph Koltai’s sets dating from 1997, in collaboration with Welsh National Opera.