Oper Zürich – Il trovatore

Il trovatore – Opera in four acts to a libretto by Salvatore Cammarano after El Trovador by Antonio García Gutiérrez [sung in Italian with German surtitles]

Manrico – Marcelo Álvarez
Leonora – Joanna Kozlowska
Il Count di Luna – Angelo Veccia
Azucena – Luciana D’Intino
Ferrando – Giuseppe Scorsin
Ines – Liuba Chuchrova
Ruiz – Miroslav Christoff
Old Gypsy – Kai Florian Bischoff
Messenger – Benjamin Bernheim

Chor der Oper Zürich
Zusatzchor der Oper Zürich
Statistenverein der Oper Zürich

Orchester der Oper Zürich
Miguel Gómez-Martínez

Giancarlo del Monaco – Producer
Peter Sykora – Set and Costume Design
Jürgen Hoffmann – Lighting

Reviewed by: Kevin Rogers

Reviewed: 16 December, 2008
Venue: Opernhaus Zürich, Switzerland

Part Two of 'Il trovatore': Luciana D'Intino, Marcel Álvarez, Chor des Opernhauses Zürich. Photograph: opernhaus.ch“Il trovatore” marked a return to the blood-and-thunder excesses of Verdi’s previous years at the opera. Sandwiched between “Rigoletto” and “La traviata”, though, the idea of a retrograde step is not true. Here, gypsies alternate with soldiers; a resounding chorus precedes Azucena’s confrontation with her mortal enemy, the Count. It is these contrasts in the dramatic flow, and the entirely human characters, that make “Il trovatore” such a unique work and a superb achievement.

The story is based in fifteenth-century Spain but Giancarlo del Monaco’s production transplants the action to many locales. There are men dressed as Samurai, yet other men are in modern dress (long coats, sunglasses and trilby hats). Azucena, clad in leather and flame-haired, could be the wife of a Hell’s Angel, and Manrico, whilst in leather, is not so extravagantly dressed. The production is a jumble of ideas and a narrative mess, with little coherence. The “hall of the Aliafería Palace” was a snow-filled empty stage with the retainers of the Count wearing helmets and armed with full-length shields and large spears. The opening of Act Two found the gypsies at the entrance of a giant sewer whilst two handsome, shirtless, well-muscled men fought bare-knuckle to ‘Vedi! Le fosche notturne spoglie…’ (Look how the vast dome of heaven…) – now, that is a contrast!

Cristina Gallardo-Domâs & Marcelo Álvarez. Photograph: opernhaus.ch The convent scene had a dividing metal grille and a lamppost: Azucena is held captive here by being tied to the latter! For the chapel the stage’s back half was screened using black-metal slat-blinds. An iron footbridge served as the “wing of the palace of Aliafería” and, finally, and conventionally, Manrico and his adoptive mother Azucena are found tied to a wall. Rightly, everything is dimly lit, evocative of night-time: nothing in the opera takes place during the day. It is difficult to imagine a greater lack of continuity between scenes and characters, and so it would be pleasing to have this countered by fabulous music-making, but this was inconsistent – excepting Marcelo Álvarez and Luciana D’Intino, who were captivating throughout.

Álvarez is no stranger to this part, and he demonstrated his ability to push every button and exploit every nuance to maximum effect. He is a fine Verdian tenor, producing delicious darkness in his voice whilst revelling in the febrile emotions and ideas of Manrico. He summoned with relative ease heartfelt emotions, such as in his vow of love to Leonora. Álvarez’s triumph came at the end, where he rejects Leonora: ‘Ha quest’infame l’amor venduto’ (Ah, this fake woman has betrayed our love) was gloriously vicious and with it Álvarez threw Manrico’s life away, literally.

Leo Nucci, Luciana D'Intino, Chor des Opernhauses Zürich. Photograph: opernhaus.chPerhaps the opera ought to be called “The Gypsy Woman” or simply “Azucena” – everything that happens is because of her: she threw her own child onto her mother’s pyre and kidnaps a Count’s younger brother (Manrico) who she then brings up as her own son. She still hears her dying mother’s cry of ‘Mi vendica’ (Avenge me). The revenge is Azucena’s getting the Count to execute Manrico: he kills his own brother and he must live with that knowledge. D’Intino’s cry of ‘Sie vendicata, o madre!’ (Mother, you are avenged) chilled to the bone. Trance-like, Azucena recounts. To give her monologue the other-worldliness it requires is D’Intino’s skill: ‘Quand’ecco agli egri spiriti…’ (Then suddenly to my afflicted heart…) developed in to a passionate and delirious outpouring, her deep range compellingly drawn and frightening.

Sadly, the rest of the cast did not live up to this pair. Leonora was underpowered and characterised weakly by Joanna Kozlowska: it was not believable that she had the will to help set Manrico free or even to love him. The Count, too, was devoid of manly emotions, here being reminiscent of a petulant child who throws toys out of his pram. Other parts found Benjamin Bernheim and Miroslav Christoff rather insecure as the Messenger and Ruiz, respectively, although Kai Florian Bischoff gave the Old Gypsy notable expression. Liuba Chuchrova (Ines) passed without trouble, or much notice, but at least Giuseppe Scorsin gave Ferrando some masculine prowess.

On the whole, Miguel Gómez-Martínez led the Orchestra, pointing up the score’s raw energy and ensuring its vital drive. He made much of ensuring that the thrills of the set-pieces were exactly that whilst elsewhere managing to heighten even those parts of the score that require the subtlest of accompaniment. The Chorus delivered rousing and ardent singing; it was a welcome distraction from the dreary and baffling sets.

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