The Royal Opera – Verdi’s Il trovatore – Riccardo Massi, Marina Rebeka, Ludovic Tézier & Jamie Barton; directed by Adele Thomas; conducted by Sir Antonio Pappano


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

Leonora – Marina Rebeka
Manrico – Riccardo Massi
Conte di Luna – Ludovic Tézier
Azucena – Jamie Barton
Ferrando – Roberto Tagliavini
Ines – Gabrielė Kupšytė
Ruiz – Michael Gibson
An Old Gypsy – John Morrissey
Messenger – Andrew O’Connor

Chorus & Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
Sir Antonio Pappano

Adele Thomas – Director
Annemarie Woods – Designer
Franck Evin – Lighting
Emma Woods – Choreographer
Jonathan Holby – Fight Director

Reviewed by: Curtis Rogers

Reviewed: 2 June, 2023
Venue: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London

The Royal Opera House has jettisoned Barrie Kosky’s cabaret-style Carmen in favour of a new production next season. But its basic conception of a staircase with the ensemble slinking over it incessantly reappears now for Adele Thomas’s new Il trovatore (presented jointly with Zurich Opera). Inspired by the ghoulish visions of Hieronymus Bosch and Jan Mandijn (though the unworldly figures of Bartolomé Bermejo’s paintings could also have been a source, given the drama’s Spanish setting), evil comes at Leonora and Manrico from all sides, once the gigantic jaws of a hideous monster at the front of the stage open at the outset. Ferrando and the rest of Count di Luna’s horned, cloven-hoofed band slither around like infernal halfwit sycophants, whilst the gypsies alongside the physically diseased Azucena are no less unconventional. The splendid conical hat worn by Ines, Leonora’s confidante, even looks witchy and threatening.

Emma Woods’s choreography is deftly executed by the Chorus, who sing heartily and emphatically here. But their fantastical appearance seems contrived, like a fancy dress party, and renders the work as, more or less, a melodrama (underneath the opera’s elements of theatrical spectacle, there is still a deeply serious human drama to be played out in Verdi’s scenario). The soloists have comparatively little do except adopt an essentially ‘park and bark’ approach to their numbers which doesn’t illumine the narrative and its themes very much either.

Those innate dramatic threads are drawn out in the music more compellingly by the idiosyncratic cast. As befits the troubadour of the title, Riccardo Massi commands the role of Manrico with boldness and candour, though with a slight guttural veneer which detracts from the sense of the character as a heroic (if doomed) romantic lead. Marina Rebeka sparkles as Leonora, not spinning beautiful lines for the sake of it but distilling a captivating point of musical light and clarity amidst the overall gloomy atmosphere of the production. Jamie Barton cultivates a certain wiriness for the wily gypsy Azucena, managing to sound both suffering and calculating as she wheedles Manrico to serve unwittingly her long worked-out plan in avenging her mother.  With undoubtedly solid and controlled singing, Ludovic Tézier evinces a powerful presence as the Count di Luna, but skilfully contrives an unbending woodenness in his delivery of his aria expressing his love for Leonora (which she deplores) that rightly deflects any sympathy we may have for him and his own schemes for revenge. Roberto Tagliavini proves a charismatic and able storyteller in his aria which opens the whole opera, recounting the history that has led to Azucena’s animosity against the Count and Manrico.  Gabrielė Kupšytė’s Ines and Michael Gibson’s Ruiz round out the musically picturesque, capable cast.

There is palpable bite in the performance from Sir Antonio Pappano, who impels the ROH Orchestra with a drive and force that is not impulsive but carefully structured and proportioned such that each Act hangs together as a single unit. Much as the audience might want to clap after discrete sections, it makes more sense to sustain the tension of the music, especially as the Orchestra sounds more muscular and immediate than it has tended to do. Such heft in this urgent score is welcome.

That goes a long way in making up for what the production lacks in purposeful, dramaturgical ideas. Some will like its choreographic conceit but those seeking a more involving interpretation of the drama than a demonic cabaret will be disappointed and will wonder why the previous production by David Bösch (first seen in 2016) was retired so quickly.

Further performances to July 2

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