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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, November 26, 2018

Opera Review: Heads Will Roll

Il Trovatore stuns the Lyric Opera.
by Jessie Tannenbaum with edits by Paul J. Pelkonen
Jamie Barton as Azucena in a scene from Il Trovatore.
Photo by Todd Rosenberg for Lyric Opera of Chicago.
Although I aspire to superconductive powers of teleportation, I cannot be everywhere at once. So when my good friend Jessie told me she'd be in Chicago for Il Trovatore I asked her to share some of her views on the performance. (Aside from being a fine international attorney, Ms. Tannenbaum is also a choral singer of some experience. Also, being the gracious friend that she is, she agreed.)

Il Trovatore is a Verdi classic, and this Chicago production is the same one seen at the Met: the show by Sir David McVicar that has run at the Met for some years with considerable success. While the style of the following is in the vein of this blog, the thoughts and comments on the performance are Jessie's. Enjoy!

As Leonora, the opera's ill-fated heroine, Tamara Wilson brought multiple qualities to her portrayal of Leonora. She was floaty and girlish in the high passages but dramatic and strong when needed. In the ornamental passages where she sang without the orchestra, she sang with great feeling for the character's plight.

As Azucena, Jamie Barton was perfect, and the reason I wanted to see this performance. Through my opera glasses, her expression and acting came through. She has a high range that veers into lyric soprano territory and comes back down with a chest voice that can sound almost feral. She brought out both to great effect as Azucelna, a complex character who is at once a bereaved young daughter, frantic and crazed at the death of her mother and a killer who (accidentally) murders her own son. She also existed in the present of this war-torn opera, a bitter,  angry woman bent on vengeance but simultaneously tender toward the boy she raised in place of her son.

In the tense final trio with Leonora and Manrico, Ms. Barton was face down as though she was singing in her sleep. However, the low notes were smooth, strong and clear despite the awkward positioning. The last line of the fourth act where she sings 'Mother, now you are avenged' left the audience silent and stunned for a moment until everyone realized the curtain was coming down and broke into wild applause.

As Count di Luna, baritone Artur Rucinski was making his house debut. He was technically competent and his big solo aria was met with warm applause. He played a great villain and was very convincing both in how entitled he felt to Leonora and what an absolute, abusive creep his character was. Even his aria about how much he loved Leonora had this obnoxious sense of entitlement to it that showed that Verdi and his librettist were well ahead of their own time.

Russell Thomas confronted the role of Manrico with a big, bold voice, using lower and upper registers. In the showstopper "Di quella pira", (where he's racing off to save his mother from being burned to death at the end of Act 3), he sang with ringing, muscular tone. His acting was a little wooden throughout the show, and there wasn't much brewing in the way of chemistry between Leonora and Manrico. Then again, this is an opera about four characters in very conflicted relationships in the middle of a war.

Contralto Lauren Decker, who played Inez, and tenor Mario Rojas, who played Ruiz, are both in Lyric Opera's Young Artists Program at the Ryan Center. They definitely did not seem like young artist program performers shunted into small roles, which is what sometimes happens. They definitely merited their roles on their own.  Roberto Tagliavini was an unmemorable Ferrando with a nice voice. Marco Armiliato showed his skill and experience leading the Lyric Opera orchestra through this beloved and familiar score.

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