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Subject: London "Trovatore"
From: Maxwell Paley <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Maxwell Paley <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Sat, 11 Feb 2017 18:08:23 -0800
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On Jan. 26 I was finished with several days of work in Cambridge in the UK and spent a couple nights in London before flying back to SF. On that Thursday, I was able to get a good Orchestra Stalls seat for 'Il Trovatore" at the Royal Opera.
 
This was a production set in, for as much as I could tell, present day; the gypsies looked like what you'd see in a gypsy camp in some of the hillier areas of Spain today but Leonora and de Luna wore somewhat more traditional looking costumes. The director was David Bösch and the sets were designed by Patrick Bannwart.
 
It was a dark, greys and charcoal affair but. then, most of the opera takes place at night. De Luna's men were dressed in contemporary looking combat outfits and had heavy arms and a tank. The gypsy camp looked realistic of such today; a garbage heap with the remains of a wrecked car, an abandoned camper shell that was Azucena's home, fire burning in a trash can, old baby carriages used to transport goods and people, etc. There seemed to be bales of barbed wire popping up everywhere. There were also extraneous bits of savagery and brutality: a gypsy captured by the De Luna group gets tortured and his throat slit in the opening scene of Act 3; the gypsies do similar to one of De Luna’s men, whom they’ve captured, a bit later on.
 
The big question for me about production is not about whether it's traditional or Eurotrash as much as is it convincing. I can say I found the overall show convincing - the power and emotion of the music and drama came across.
 
The conductor was Richard Farnes. Decent, good playing, good pacing - think along the lines of Marco Armiliato which means nothing wrong and good support for the singers, but nothing like the added brilliance I've heard from this orchestra in this music under Pappano or the sheer splendor I’ve heard this orchestra produce under Bychkov.
 
The singers were good to excellent; all of them good enough to convey the power and experience of the work which is no mean feat.  Dmitri Hvorostovsky was to have sung De Luna but we all know that story. He was replaced by Ukrainian baritone Vitaliy Bilyy. Hvorostovsky would have been the brightest element in the cast; Bilyy was probably the weak spot. Not that he was bad and there is considerable power and heft to his voice, if nowhere near the velvet plush of Hvorostovsky, but he's a stiff and one-dimensional actor. 
 
Not that bringing a wealth of light and shade to De Luna is a piece of cake. Of the two brothers, Manrico may have had all the obvious disadvantages and hardships, but he clearly got all the optimism, charm, empathy and positive personality traits. De Luna got the self-absorption and resentments.
 
Manrico was Gregory Kunde, whom I've never heard in this kind of heavy repertoire before. His voice was generally clear and steady, somewhat labored and his high C's were tight, clenched jaw yells. He acted with clarity and passion but, I don't want to be cruel, he's now not an attractive guy. Squat figure, heavy jowls, mangy gray hair dressed in jeans, t-shirt and bomber jacket.
 
Leonora was quite lovely, Lianna Haroutoutnian. At her first notes I thought Adina had wandered into the wrong opera, but the voice took on color and volume and bloomed out quite expansively, always quite beautiful in quality. She was also a lively, youthful, attractive persona. The director had her dancing in place when she sang "Di tale amor" with a "so there" attitude toward Inez, but it worked and seemed to help her get her coloratura spot on. There was also a bit of a dance to her contribution to the ensemble in the Covent Scene after Manrico's surprise reappearance and an attitude of "this day turned out WAY better than I thought." No notes sung above high C, but that C was a good, solid note whether on the climax to "Tacea la Notte" or in "D'Amor Sul'Ali" or capping the duet with de Luna. Two instrumental elements she seems to lack: no sign of a trill and she doesn't have the ability to float soft high notes (neither did Pilar Lorengar).
 
Azucena was Anita the Unpronounceable (actually, I think I have a reasonable idea what to do with Rachvelishvili). Very interesting. Saw her a few years ago, before she made it to the Met, as Carmen. Then I saw a very hefty but still sultry and sexy woman with a rich, contralto like sound and some clear limitation on top. She's lost a lot of weight (still not exactly slender) and she sang in a much lighter, sopranoish timbre that put the voice in a much different alignment and allowed for free, easy high notes (including a good C in the duet with Manrico before he takes off to rescue Leonora). She sang much of it at a modest volume level, floating as though mesmerized through "Stride la vampa" and the opening of "Condotta all'era" obviously quite loony and holding a baby doll, letting the voice out full tilt only for big, overpowering climaxes. She was a powerful and gripping persona. It would have been really interesting to see her confront Hvorostovsky in Act 3.
 
Somehow I was more aware than usual of the re-use of material, to strikingly different effect, across "Trovatore," "Traviata" and "Rigoletto." Between "Trovatore" and "Traviata" I noticed the parallel of the rising, cantabile phrase in "Tacea la Notte"("Dolce s'udiro e flebili...") with its lovely expansion vs. the same notes expressing Violetta's tension and fear coming to Flora's party in Act 2 ("Ah, perche venni incauta..."). I also noticed, as somehow I'd missed before, the similarity in orchestration and vocal line between "Ai nostri monti" and "Parigi, o cara." 
 
With regard to "Rigoletto" there's Leonora's rising line "Sei tu dal ciel discese..." in the Convent Scene that parallel's Gilda's very different line leading toward the climax of the famous Act 3 quartet.

Max Paley
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