Giuseppe Verdi: Il Trovatore, Met in HD Encore, Phoenix Picturehouse, Oxford, 6 October 2015.
The tenth season of The Met in HD opened on 6 October with the 2009 production by David McVicar of one of Verdi’s most popular operas, Il Trovatore. This is my forty-fourth review starting with Eugene Onegin in 2007. Il Trovatore is one of the most popular ever though it has only notched up six hundred and fifty performances at the Met compared with around one thousand for La Traviata and Carmen. I have seen it staged twice, in Grenoble by a travelling company from Milan (think Carl Rosa) and at the Met in the notorious production by Graham Vick who had his name removed from the credits after the Met had insisted on the removal of the worst excesses. The characters were all dressed in costumes from other operas (Azucena was dressed as the Stepmother from Jenufa and Leonora died looking like the Marschallin from Rosenkavalier). If such a production merits serious consideration then so must the Marx Brothers for the film A Night at the Opera in which the genre is sent up at the expense of sabotaging a performance of this opera. I return to this later.
In an intermission interview Dolora Zajick said it was impossible to summarise the plot in a few words. Rising to the challenge I attempt to do this: Two brothers Count di Luna and Manrico (the troubadour) know each other only as rivals for the hand of Leonora who loves Manrico; he, having been abducted by the gypsy Azucena, has been brought up by her as her son, replacing her own carelessly confined to the flames intended for Manrico in revenge for the burning of her mother as a witch. Azucena is captured by di Luna as is Manrico in attempting to rescue her. Leonora offers herself to di Luna in exchange for Manrico’s freedom and takes poison. He kills Manrico as Azucena reveals it is his own brother.
Clearly this requires a suspension of disbelief. This is aided by the glorious music and in this performance by the level of singing and the staging. The standard is set at the outset by the bass Štefan Kocán as Ferrando, captain of the guard, relating the story so far with a voice deserving a principal role. With the orchestra conducted by Marco Armiliasto and the handling of the chorus we were immediately dragged into the drama. One by one the principals made their appearance. First Anna Netrebko as Leonora, now established, with Renée Fleming and Joyce DiDonato, among the leading performers in front of the HD cameras, gave a heart rending portrayal of her role. Of the brothers, di Luna was sung by baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky, fully restored to vocal form after recent serious illness. (He sang Onegin in the first HD opera I reviewed). Manrico was performed by the Korean tenor Yonghoon Lee in an extremely moving performance in his body language and in the dynamic range of his voice. Azucena was another outstanding performance though her voice lacked the dark throatiness often associated with the role. Completing the cast was Maria Zifchak as Leonora’s companion.
For the cinema audience this was a filmed stage performance not ciné-opera. The tremendously (over?) enthusiastic theatre audience greeted every aria with deserved prolonged applause reinforcing the view that we were looking in rather than enjoying a cinematic experience.
It was only twenty four hours later that the illusion vanished and we were back with the Marx Brothers. The scenery, chorus and costumes of A Night at the Opera could have been borrowed from the current Met production of 1935. It was so close to McVicar’s staging that we missed the police chase at the back during the Anvil Chorus and the sudden change of backdrop to the deck of a battleship, Harpo swinging across the back, his foot caught in a rope and the replacement of the tenor before his last aria. It is an indication of the power of this production that recollections of these antics were swept away by total absorption in the performance.
8 October 2015