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Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, since 2007. All written content © 2014 by Paul Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Opera Review: No One Here Gets Out Alive

Il Trovatore at the Met.
by Paul Pelkonen
Detail from Pilgrimage to St. Isidro's hermitage by Francisco Goya, 
used as the show-curtain in the current Met production of Il Trovatore.
The new David McVicar staging of Il Trovatore is the perfect fuel for Verdi's fiery drama. It may not meet the Enrico Caruso standard of "the four greatest singers in the world," but last night, Marcelo Àlvarez, Sondra Radvanovsky, Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Dolora Zajick came pretty close.

The dramatic excesses of Trovatore make perfect sense in McVicar's wasteland staging. Past Met productions of this opera (most recently, the unmitigated, never-revived Graham Vick disaster of the 2000 season) chose to mock the excesses of Salvatore Cammarano's superb libretto. But this production (inspired by the late "black" paintings of Goya) embraces them, creating a war-torn wasteland dominated by a giant depiction of Christ tortured on the cross.

The bleak, rotating set (by Charles Edwards) consists of crumbling walls and damaged iron gratings, not to mention a huge witch-burning stake that echoes the upstage crucifix and reminds the audience of the opera's central tragedy of mistaken identity. In this hell-world, the forces of destiny are the only things that seem to make any sense. Everyone is doomed, and no one here gets out alive.

Libretto, sets, and staging are only a framework to hang great vocal talent upon. This production has four aces up its sleeve--all spades. Marcelo Àlvarez has evolved into a full, rich spinto tenor, fulfilling his potential with a Manrico that is equal parts bel canto singing and vocal heft. His "Di quella pira" ended on a high B, not a high C, and he did run out of breath holding it. But, he recovered nicely and hit the pitch squarely the second time. Better yet was his seductive offstage opening aria and the emotional heights of the Miserere scene.


Sondra Radvanovsky rocked the house as Leonora, one of two difficult Verdi heroines of that name. Like the Forza Leonora, Radvanovsky's character ricochets through the Spanish landscape, from lady-in-waiting to aspiring nun, blushing bride and finally, resigned suicide. Her opening "Tacea la notte" (ably aided by the restrained conducting of Gianandrea Noseda) was a gorgeous flood of sweet, creamy tone and delicate soprano filigree.

She was facile and nimble in the cabalettas: those old-fashioned high-speed arias that have flummoxed many a would-be Leonora. And her final "D'amor sull'ali rosee" drew in and involved the audience, making it seem like drinking poison (rather than marrying the baritone) was, at that point, a girl's only reasonable option.

On the other hand, Dmitri Hvorostovsky was visually and vocally gorgeous as Count di Luna, exuding the right blend of sexuality and madness that makes one question Leonora's decision to off herself rather than marry him. He cut an imposing physical and vocal figure, and floated an amazing pianissimo phrase in the middle of "Il balen del suo sorriso", a moment where lesser singers elect to blast through the notes and hope for the best. Sublime.

Despite a run of bad stagings of Trovatore (we're not even going to mention the 1980s "giant staircase" production by Ezio Frigiero), the Met has always had a great Azucena: Dolora Zajick. From "Stride la vampa" to her final confrontation with di Luna, this is one of the great portrayals in opera, filled with hysteria, horror, rage and tender moments with her "son." Zajick hit some astonishing low notes last night, and produced a solid, dramatic performance that never once veered into cliché. Neither did this superb Trovatore.
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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.