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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 © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Opera Review: The Full (Digital) Verdi

The Met outdoor broadcast series does Il Trovatore.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Passions writ large: Dmitri Hvorostovsky (left) woos Anna Netrebko in Act IV of Il Trovatore.
Photo © 2016 The Metrropolitan Opera.
Not every opera reviewer can see every important revival at the Metropolitan Opera. (It's even harder when that house continues its practice of keeping hard-working bloggers out of its press seats.) A major gap was corrected last night when this writer finally got a chance to see last year's searing revival of Il Trovatore, with Anna Netrebko, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Dolora Zajick and Younghoon Lee squaring off in Verdi's most passionate opera. Il Trovatore is a repertory staple, but one that is hard to bring off as a full success. Under the baton of Marco Armiliato, this quartet of singers succeeded.

This Live in HD telecast (shown Sunday night as part of the company's ongoing summer festival of free broadcasts on Lincoln Center Plaza) was filmed on Oct. 3 of last year. It features these four great singers going for the throat, and will forever be remembered as the performance that a courageous Mr. Hvorostovsky gave while battling a brain tumor. However, posterity might also remember this show as the moment that Mr. Lee stepped forward as a major tenor talent.

This lanky South Korean singer showed a firm command of the role of Manrico, holding his own in fire-breathing duel scenes with Mr. Hvorostovsky and evoking flights of passion in his mad love scenes with Ms. Netrebko. From his offstage serenade in the first act to his long duet work with Ms. Zajick's Azucena in the second, he stayed thoroughly involved, bringing flesh and blood to Verdi's cardboard hero. And he gritted his teeth and nailed the murderous Act III cabaletta "Di quella pirra," aided by propulsive conducting and chorus work that made this great aria leap off the screen.

Ms. Netrebko is the leading soprano of our day, and is making what is so far a successful bid to go from the middleweight class of soprano roles toward heavier repertory. Her Leonora was a complete success, navigating the slaloms and hurdles of the fast passagework and keeping her course even as the music got choppy and difficult. She brought a sense of involvement and playful craziness to this most mad of Verdi heroines. Those mannerisms did not hinder the flood of glorious sound in "Tacea la notte", the aria that introduces the heroine in Act I. She regally agreed to her abduction (by Manrico) in the second act ensemble. Her Act IV suicide was perfect in tone, meaty with just the right seasoning as she sank gasping to the stage, overcome by slow poison. Magnificent.

In the villainous role of Count di Luna, Mr. Hvorostovsky sounded more comfortable than ever in Verdi. His aristocratic look and civilized veneer spread thinly over this despicable character. The entire performance was a slow devolution from would-be suitor for Leonora to madman determined to kidnap her and possess her at any cost. The singer seemed to relish the role of the dastardly antagonist, rising to heights of villainy and madness as the fourth act raced toward its anguished climax. His handsome voice was firm throughout, and it remains amazing that he could sing like this under such medical conditions.

Dolora Zajick is most familiar quantity here, having sung the role of Azucena at the Met since 1988. Her mezzo has lost some of the bloom and freshness of its past, but her deep involvement with the character showed in every bar she sung. Shifting vocal colors from maternal caresses to fierce revenge-driven rage (often at times in the same scene) she carried off this part in a tour de force. Azucena is the most Verdian character here, and one heard the care and detail invested in her creation with every bar of this performance.

Watching a Met Live in HD broadcast is not quite the same as the real thing, but this film caught some of the fire and drive that this quartet must have brought to the opera house. The assembled audience in Lincoln Center Plaza even applauded the singers at the correct moments, showing the most love for Ms. Netrebko and Mr. Hvorostovsky, two artists who are favorites at the Met. They should also display love for the amazing Met chorus and orchestra, who enhanced the mood of wartime gloom and fierce passion that is central to any successful performance of Il Trovatore.

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