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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2016 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Opera Review: Disposable Heroes

The Met revives Il Trovatore.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Cardboard hero: Gwyn Hughes Jones as Manrico
in the Met's revival of Il Trovatore.
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2012 The Metropolitan Opera.

This season's revival of Verdi's Il Trovatore (seen Monday, October 8) is the first of seven Verdi productions at the Met this year, calculated around the celebration of Verdi's 200th birthday. A small detail (like the fact that Verdi turns 199 today) didn't stop the opera company from using the (2013) bicentennial as this year's marketing hook. Equally, not having a tenor up to the formidable task of Manrico didn't stop the show from going forward.

Gwyn Hughes Jones is a Welsh singer of some experience, a tenor in the spinto mold that is usually ideal for this type of Verdi part. But on Monday, Mr. Jones offered a bright, slightly nasal timbre that made Manrico an unwelcome presence for the first half of the opera. His unpleasant tone made the character--already something of a cardboard hero--difficult and unsympathetic. He fared better in Acts III and IV, singing the sometimes inaccessible high Cs at the end of Di quella pirra and merging smoothly into the ensembles that bring the last act to its violent climax.

The tenor's shortcomings were offset by by Carmen Giannattasio in the role of Leonora. This was her second appearance on the Met stage, and she brought grace and bel canto style to the character. Her sweet tone caressed the vocal line of "Tacea la notte" and she proved equally adept in the opera's fast cabalettas. Most impressive: the Act IV suicide monlogue, where Leonora resolves to marry the evil Count di Luna (Franco Vassallo) but not before drinking poison hidden in a ring.

Fans of mezzo Dolora Zajick, who has pretty much  owned the part of Azucena at the opera house since the 1980s, were disappointed in the substitution of Mzia Nioradze in the role of Manrico's adoptive mother and the opera's most famous character. Overcoming a wide vibrato that undermined the Act II canzonetta "Stride la vampa", Ms. Nioradze proved to have a commanding stage presence and a rich voice capable of expressive low notes. She spat fire in her Act III confrontation with Count di Luna and proved her worth in the touching prison duet with Mr. Jones.

Di Luna is a tough, ungrateful part. Mr. Vassallo made the Count into a complex, tormented figure caught between his obsession with Leonora and his hatred for Manrico (who turns out to actually be the Count's long-lost little brother.) The baritone avoided the cartoonish, mustache-twirling villainy frequently heard in this part, using his dark-colored, smallish baritone expertly against the orchestral backdrop. The final, tragic scene was played for maximum effect, with the baritone dropping to his knees in horror and shock as the curtain came down.

Conductor Daniele Callegari brought drama and sweep to the score, proving that Verdi's abilities as a composer are well beyond oom-pah-pah accompaniment. More importantly he left the singers room to breathe and maneuver, producing some spectacular fireworks in the big moments. The only hitch: the Act II Anvil Chorus didn't quite come off, due to some overenthusiastic, off-the-beat pounding from the burly hammer-swingers onstage.ppelkonen@gmail.com
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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.