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Friday, February 12, 2010

DVD Review: Il Trovatore at the Vienna State Opera

Raina Kaibavanska as Leonora. 
That's the famous poison ring on her finger.
This 1978 performance of Il Trovatore from Vienna is a definitive performance of Verdi's war opera, under the stern direction of Herbert von Karajan.

Placído Domingo is at the height of his powers here, singing the title role with power and passion, his dark-tinted tenor ideally suited and still capable of the vocal leaps and bounds required by some of Verdi's most challenging music. His Manrico is a mix of neurosis and sex appeal whose death in the fourth act leaves the viewer feeling hollow. It should say something about his performance that his "Di quella pira" rings down the curtain on Act III with so much gusto and energy that the aria feels like the climactic finish of the opera. You almost forget that there's a fourth act to come.


Domingo may be on the marquee at the Wiener Staatsoper, but all four leading parts in this opera are rock-solid. (Since this is a requirement for a great Trovatore, there are a lot of bad recordings of this opera!) Raina Kabaivanska is more than able in the part of Leonora, tossing off high notes and building the role to a glorious, suicidal end. Her Act III duet with Domingo stops the opera dead for applause.

Even better though, is Fiorenza Cossotto in the role of Azucena. Manrico's gypsy mother must have an incredible chemistry with her son for this opera to work, and their duet in Act IV brings their relationship to a powerful climax. Cossotto skates on the edge of mania here, suffering guilt, grief, and a kind of dizzying dementia that you only see and hear in Italian opera.

Piero Cappuccilli was a great Verdi baritone, well-known for his excellent recordings as Rigoletto and Boccanegra, Here, he appears in fine voice as Conte di Luna, using his refined, smooth baritone to make this a fairly sympathetic villain with a minimum of mustache-twirling. It is nice to hear Karajan stalwarts Jose van Dam and Heinz Zednik in the tiny supporting roles of Ferrando and Ruiz.


Herbert von Karajan conducts his crack Vienna orchestra as if he is leading his own invasion of Spain. The maestro always dd well with Trovatore and here he shows his skill as an accompanist. Rarest of all, at the very end of this DVD, Karajan smiles.



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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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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.