The Royal Opera – Il trovatore [Álvarez & Naglestad]

Il trovatore – Opera in four acts [Sung in Italian with English surtitles]

Manrico – Marcelo Álvarez
Leonora – Catherine Naglestad
Count di Luna – Anthony Michaels-Moore
Azucena – Stephanie Blythe
Ferrando – Raymond Aceto
Ines – Kishani Jayasinghe
Ruiz – Haoyin Xue
Old Gypsy – Thomas Barnard
Messenger – John Heath

The Royal Opera Chorus
The Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
Nicola Luisotti

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

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 30 January, 2007
Venue: The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London

It can hardly be an original remark that if “Rigoletto” decisively brought about the theatrical mastery of Verdi’s 1850s’ operas, then “Il trovatore” is a reversion to the crudities of the ramshackle epics from the preceding decade. Does this matter when audiences continue to lap up its blood-and-thunderexcesses? Is it, indeed, wrong to look for or tease out subtleties of expression that its creators can hardly have intended? Such thoughts certainly came to mind, and often, during the course of this involving but ultimately unfocussed production – back for its second revival.

First seen at the Royal Opera House in 2002 and revived two year later, Elijah Moshinsky’s production has evidently undergone a fair re-think over that time. Its essential premise is that all four principals are trapped within psychological ‘cages’, within which their searching for the proverbial ‘way out’ only gives rise to further heartache, yet more plot contortions and greater desire for vengeance on the way to the damning revelation of identity at the close. Which would be fine but for the supposition of a psychology behind the drama that neither Salvatore Cammarano’s libretto or Verdi’s music share. And, arresting though they often are visually, Dante Ferretti’s sets only confuse the issue by locating action within a generalised Risorgimento Italy that, however relevant to the opera’s genesis, has very little to do with its scenario. Thus the interplay of bourgeois, military and gypsy strata is of limited help in divining the motivations of characters whose actions are dictated purely by impulse: something that no amount of foundry-like workshops or station-like convents can hope to elucidate.

Vocally the cast is a distinct mixed bag, never quite the sum of its often impressive parts. Raymond Aceto makes a virile Ferrando, striding purposefully through the audience stalls (and negotiating himself through the front row onto the stage) – a striking initial coup de théâtre. A pity that he has little of the limelight thereafter. As Manrico, the unabashed bravado of Marcelo Álvarez dominates the stage without ever stealing the show: technically immaculate, he evinces little human warmth with which to make his heroic exploits more sympathetic – trusting to one-dimensional machismo, and vocal shading to match, to win the audience. Not that the Count di Luna of Anthony Michaels-Moore, vocally frayed around the edges to a degree not warranted by the dissolute figure conveyed by his portrayal, seems exactly his match in their ongoing (and at times comically contrived) confrontation – characterised here as one between the elite and disenfranchised of society that never quite coheres.

The two female principals marked the relative extremes in this performance. As Leonora, Catherine Naglestad never recovered from her static and self-effacing first appearance – an oddly anodyne figure who could hardly be thought to enflame the passions of her suitors. Awkward phrasing undermined even her fine soliloquy at the start of Act Four, albeit to an extent that suggested more an off-night than tentativeness in the role.

Quite a contrast with Stephanie Blythe, who brought a lusty emotion and fervency to Azucena to make her Act Two monologue the vocal as well as musical highlight of the evening, and with an underlying compassion in her contribution to the opera’s denouement to make it emotionally, rather than just theatrically, credible. Of the smaller parts, Kishani Jayasinghe was a warmly supportive Ines, Thomas Barnard a characterful Old Gypsy, and John Heath and Haoyin Xue secure in their respective roles as the Messenger and Ruiz.

Otherwise, it was Nicola Luisotti who provided the other ‘star turn’. Without selling short the opera’s heightened emotion, he not only paced the score almost ideally, but also with a judicious blend of incisiveness and clarity that pointed up the sheer immediacy of Verdi’s orchestration. This is not an opera that gains through undue thoughtfulness and deliberation, and Luisotti’s keen but never inflexible drive, to which the Royal Opera House Orchestra responded with relish, made the most of its virtues. Nor was it necessarily his fault that the singers, as also the excellent Royal Opera Chorus, occasionally lacked co-ordination with the pit – caught as they no doubt were in the uncertainties of a production that requires of them a subtlety of response such as the opera brutally and unashamedly eschews.

  • Remaining performances on 2, 5, 8, 12, 15 & 23 February at 7.30; and on 18 February at 3 p.m.
  • Box office: 020 7304 4000
  • Royal Opera House

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