Il Trovatore, Royal Opera, ROH, Covent Garden, July 2016Posted on 3 July 2016
Darkness, fire and blood are the elements around which director David Bösch has built his new co-production with Frankfurt Opera, debuting here at Covent Garden.
Darkness is inherent in the main events of this opera, for example in Act I when Leonora mistakes the Count di Luna for her lover Manrico, and indeed in Act II when Azucena recalls the back-story of stealing the di Luna baby, but burning her own by mistake. Fires burn on the dark stage at various moments, including a rather outré heart-shape ablaze at the end when Azucena calls out vengeance for her dead mother, burned to death as a witch by the present Count’s father. Blood is represented by murder and prisoner abuse, but what were the white projected images of butterflies doing? In the final scene of Act II one appeared like a Halloween ghost flying above the crosses of dead soldiers, causing audience laughter, which in serious moments is always a sign of directing gone wrong. The nuns appearing as wilis in that scene was however, to my taste, a nice touch.
Production opinions aside however, the musical performance under the vibrant baton of Gianandrea Noseda was thrilling. Francesco Meli’s bold troubadour Manrico, singing with beautiful tone and phrasing, delivered the searing passion this role embodies, as did Ekaterina Semenchuk as his gypsy mother Azucena, combining earthiness in the lower register with fiery determination as her voice hit the higher notes. These two provided a stunning evening of high emotion, well aided by the gentler presence of Lianna Haroutounian as Leonora, showing nicely judged crescendos and sublime singing towards the end of Act II as she imagines being in heaven with Manrico.
As the Count di Luna, Željko Lučić was a dark presence, delivering his Act II paean to love for Leonora, Il balen del suo sorriso — one of the toughest baritone arias in opera — with fine vocal colour. Looking remarkably similar to him on stage was his Captain Ferrando, sung with ominous power by Maurizio Muraro, and the support of the chorus was magnificent, with tenor Douglas Telfer delivering an excellent vignette as the Messenger.
All told, this production delivers what is needed, with the added contribution of circus performers in the Act II gypsy camp scene, adding colour to the eclectic modern costume designs by Meentje Nielsen, and dark lighting by Olaf Winter. But what really raised this performance to the highest level was Gianandrea Noseda’s glorious conducting that helped orchestra and singers to fully bring out the thrill and musicality of this Verdi opera — may his debut here be followed by many more appearances.
This opera returns to the ROH next season, and performances this season with two different casts continue on various dates until July 17, with a live outdoor relay on July 14 — for details click here.