The Royal Opera – Il trovatore [Alagna, Radvanovsky, Hvorostovsky & Walewska]

Il trovatore – Drama in four parts to a libretto by Salvatore Cammarano after El Trovador by Antonio García Gutiérrez [sung in Italian with English surtitles]

Manrico – Roberto Alagna
Leonora – Sondra Radvanovsky
Count di Luna – Dmitri Hvorostovsky
Azucena – Małgorzata Walewska
Ferrando – Mikhail Petrenko
Ines – Monika-Evelin Liiv
Ruiz – Haoyin Xue
Old Gypsy – Jonathan Fisher
Messenger – John Heath

The Royal Opera Chorus

The Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
Carlo Rizzi

Elijah Moshinsky – Director
Dante Ferretti – Set designs
Anne Tilby – Costume designs
Mike Gunning – Lighting
William Hobbs – Fight Director

Reviewed by: Kevin Rogers

Reviewed: 13 April, 2009
Venue: The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London

Il trovatore. ©Catherine AshmoreElijah Moshinsky was on hand to direct this third revival for The Royal Opera of his Madrid production (from 2000) of Verdi’s “Il trovatore”, with little changed to the convoluted sets by Dante Ferretti. Still as baffling is the setting of the nuns’ courtyard of their monastery – it looks very impressive, but it also looks like the terminus hall of a great railway station, with all that iron-work being far too distracting.

It is a great pity that the production does not seek to address the situation of the characters, all governed by instinct and bent on revenge, somewhere in 15th-century Spain, though that last bit could be thought of as irrelevant. Placing the action within Risorgimento Italy – a couple of articles in the excellent programme book are at pains to point out that there is little connexion to be made between this opera and this Italy – only serves to confuse the characters’ motivations, that this is not the political opera the designers here think it is. It is an opera about very human people governed by human impulses.

The tenor Enrico Caruso famously remarked of “Il trovatore” that it requires the four best singers in the world to succeed. The four singers here are all experienced Verdians and they succeeded! The stellar cast of four principals all rose to compelling form. Whilst they demonstrated nuanced emotions through their voices, they also showed their ‘big’ voices and their ability to dominate through power and presence.

Roberto Alagna as Manrico & Sondra Radvanovsky as Azucena in the Royal Opera's 2009 Il trovatore. ©Catherine AshmoreRoberto Alagna brought to bear his impressive credentials as the fated hero Manrico. There was ardent passion throughout his range. Manrico affirms his pledge of love to Leonora with ‘Ah sì, ben mio; coll’essere io tuo’ (Ah yes, my dear; when I am yours) then moments later he commits himself to rescuing his ‘mother’ (Azucena): ‘Di quella pira l’orrendo foco’ (The hideous flame of that pyre). Both arias showed Alagna at his communicative best: the former beautifully phrased, full of warm lyricism, whereas the latter was defiant with full, rugged textures. Compelling!

Leonora is the incomparable Sondra Radvanovsky. Perfectly matching Manrico, she was calm in producing the ‘goods’, but, nevertheless, she had the vocal clout to give Leonora the dignity and independence she needs. ‘D’amor sull’ali rosee’ (Go forth sad sigh on the rosy wings of love), in which Leonora passes on her love to Manrico, offered the most tender moment, and she succeeded in capturing beautifully ideas of lost love and desperation.

Sondra Radvanovsky as Leonora & Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Count di Luna. ©Catherine AshmoreThe other man in competition for Leonora’s love is Count di Luna, sung by the towering Dmitri Hvorostovsky. His presence was writ large and instantly felt when first appearing. His acting was cool yet his passion boiled under this outwardly-calm surface. Only once did it let rip, when he realised that he could strike a blow against Manrico through the capture of Azucena; his giddy delight was a chilling sight. The tenderness he conjured in ‘Il balen del suo sorriso’ (The radiance of her [Leonora’s] smile) was one of many highlights. Moments later his voice became richer and more developed: he yearns for the moment of love between himself and Leonora to come more quickly and even sings that it would be vain for God to be against him; Hvorostovsky relished the arrogance.

Małgorzata Walewska’s Azucena marked a stand-out House debut. The part has a wide range, having to plumb incredible depths. What made ‘Stride la vampa!’ (The flames are roaring) – the story she tells the crowd around her of the burning of the old gypsy woman – particularly chilling was her unnatural calm that fluttered with apprehension. Later, in delirium, Azucena reveals to Manrico that he is the brother of the Count and not her son and that she had cast into flames her own son. This whole dialogue between Manrico and Azucena, that forms the centre to Part Two, laid the black depths of human nature bare in horrifying starkness. Wonderful stuff!

Set against these four performances it might be thought difficult for the supporting roles to shine. Yet Mikhail Petrenko created in Ferrando a figure of authority with motivation. With the vocal fireworks flaring it was perhaps not surprising that Carlo Rizzi and the Orchestra would find a supporting role here – and good that this was the case. There was clarity in the music and it had an inexorable drive that kept pace with the action ideally. Altogether, this was – musically speaking – an account one dreams of hearing.

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