Il Trovatore by Giuseppe Verdi, Orchestra of the Royal Opera House conducted by Gianandrea Noseda, Saturday 2nd of July, 2016, reviewed by Leslie Jones
Il Trovatore, as Ilana Walder-Biesanz has observed, is a leading candidate for the most implausible plot of all time. And although Verdi asked his librettist Salvadore Cammarano to avoid the usual “cavatinas, duets, trios, choruses, finales etc”, all of these elements duly featured in the finished product.
Cammarano wrote the libretto for Donizetti’s drama tragique, Lucia diLammermoor (1835), and there are distinct echoes of this work throughout Il Trovatore. However, Verdi vetoed Cammarano’s proposal that the gypsy Azucena go mad in the final act.
How do you engage emotionally with an audience? Verdi invariably achieved this goal when he addressed such emotive themes as nostalgia for one’s homeland (as in the aria La Provenza in La Traviata, sung by Giorgio Germont,and in Aida’s aria O patria mia) or the conflict between romantic love and loyalty to family. The most moving scene in Il Trovatore, in this regard, is when Azucena and her adopted son Manrico console each other in a dungeon. As the opera critic Christopher Wintle pointed out, there is something almost incestuous about their bond.
In director David Bösch’s production, the setting is transposed from mediaeval Spain to a contemporary war zone. There are special effects galore; butterflies and crows that flit across the screen; thumbnail sketches of the pivotal characters; a to scale tank; and a heart construction with real flames that is ignited when Azucena triumphantly informs the Count di Luna that he has unwittingly executed his own brother.
The performances of the four leading players were warmly received and were even more compelling after the interval. Soprano Lianna Haroutounian (Leonora) grew into the part without receiving the at least thirty four minute ovation reportedly accorded to Leontyne Price when she made her Met debut as Leonora in 1961! But mezzo soprano Ekaterina Semenchuk (Azucena) gave the stand out performance.