Sunday, March 1, 2009

Met - Il Trovatore - 02/28/09

By Giuseppe Verdi
Conductor: Gianandrea Noseda
Director: David McVicar
Leonora: Sondra Radnanovsky
Azucena: Dolora Zajick
Manrico: Marcel Alvarez
Count di Luna: Dmitri Hvorostovsky

When you're seating in an opera house eagerly waiting for the performance to start, your biggest fear is the appearance of the announcer, probably the most reviled individual in the opera world, as he seldom brings good news. Yesterday, however, after being greeted with the usual groans from the audience, he merely informed us that mezzo-soprano Dolora Zajick was suffering from a respiratory ailment and requested our indulgence, which won him a heart-felt round of relieved applause.
The relief was all the more genuine because the biggest challenge of producing Verdi's Il Trovatore is to find four equally strong and charismatic singers able to fill the four main characters' dreadfully exacting shoes. This is a rather daunting task, to say the least, but it hasn't stopped well-meaning and clueless people alike from trying again and again, with a decidedly mixed bag of results. Not only do the singers have to make an even-more-convoluted-than-usual plot come to life (and in opera, that is saying something), but the musical score's unforgiving mix of extremely different styles and moods also requires as much vocal technique as unflinching stamina.

Fortunately, like Manrico's companions readily responding to his defiant call to arms, the four artists on the stage yesterday had a more than a solid grasp on their parts. Sondra Radvanovsky brought her intensely expressive and wide-ranging soprano voice to the ardently fought-over Leonora, and she was formidably matched by her two relentless suitors: as the big bad Count di Luna, baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky had all the magnetic presence of Evil itself, never hesitating to go deep under his suave surface to dramatically unfurl his violent feelings, and the romantic troubadour of the title, Manrico, was brilliantly sung by tenor Marcelo Alvarez, who was easily switching from tender love songs to hold-no-prisoner arias such as "Di quella pira". Adding to the triangle from hell, mezzo-soprano Dolora Zajick proved she is still an outstanding Azucena, the demonic but oh so human gypsy haunted by too many torments. The health issue notwithstanding, her voice fiercely rose loud and clear, and we were very grateful to have her with us. These magnificent four assuredly formed a mighty web of emotional ties and unrestrained passions, immensely contributing to Verdi's unabashedly uninhibited music to make this Trovatore the ultimate romantic opera it is.
Inspired by Goya's disturbing war paintings, the revolving set quietly emphasized the dark, turbulent nature of the original story. With huge body-holding crosses constantly looming in the background, the easily adaptable décor was quickly modified according to the scene at hand, therefore allowing for painless transitions. The costumes followed suit and were discreetly appropriate for the place and time in which this production was taking place (The Spanish War of Independence in the early 19th century).
Some scenes were natural stand-outs with their powerful combination of audible and visual stimulation, such as the shirtless metal-workers at the campfire creating rhythmical off-beat percussion during the familiar "Anvil Chorus". Less convincing to me was the final scene, in which Leonora slowly died in an increasingly awkward position while her supposedly devoted-to-the-very-end paramour stands at a surprisingly wide distance from her. It is understood that gradually dying from self-inflected poisoning is not necessarily a pretty sight, but the lack of a final embrace seemed kind of odd for such a passionately committed couple.

Il Trovatore has enjoyed a constant popularity from its very first performance, partly because of the sheer power of its tragic story (stories?), partly because of its magnificent musical score punctuated by gorgeous melodies, which are even at times simultaneously sung to express the characters' different and conflicting emotions. While not strikingly original, this solid production kind of makes sense of the plot, which is quite a remarkable victory in itself, and lets the music do the rest, and that's all very good indeed.

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