Met's Trovatore is first HD telecast

The Metropolitan Opera’s Il Trovatore is the first HD telecast this season.

OperaMetro was NOT at one of the two live performances of Il Trovatore this season prior to the Met’s October 3 live in HD telecast. Here, rather, are excerpts from my review of the David McVicar production of Il Trovatore when it premiered in 2009. Two artists this season repeat their roles from the (then) new production; singers new to their roles at the Met are familiar to audiences from other operas. 

In 2009, I wrote that the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s Il Trovatore is at once a psychologically penetrating drama yet at the same time a great night at the opera. Hats off to David McVicar for pulling this one off!

McVicar’s keen dramatic insights and taut direction have transformed a work which, over the years, has come to epitomize ridiculous opera plots. On top of the story’s improbabilities and coincidences, Verdi and his librettist Salvadore Cammarano chose to put on stage only the highly emotional confrontations between the principal characters, leaving the many background details to narratives, one-liners or simply to our imagination. Not a problem with great singers on stage: most fans just sit back and enjoy the ride.

But McVicar is not content to let his singers merely stand and deliver Verdi’s glorious vocal lines. By his direction, even at the opera’s beginning, Leonora is tormented by her love for Manrico, the mysterious knight who, we learn, appeared to her once in a jousting contest and who now, as the troubadour, sings to her at night. Whereas most Leonoras I’ve seen merely clasp their hands in mild despair and rustle their hoop dresses a little, McVicar’s Leonora is already out of her hoops and on the floor in a rush of emotion. As her love for Manrico becomes increasingly desperate and extreme, so do Leonora’s decisions and actions.

Anna Netrebko as Leonora below Manrico's prison cell

Anna Netrebko as Leonora below Manrico's prison cell

Manrico is caught between two women (Leonora, his love, and Azucena, his gypsy mother), but he also experiences conflicting emotions: he wants the blood of his rival, the Count di Luna, yet when he has the opportunity to thrust a blade into di Luna’s heart, a strange pity stays his hand. McVicar highlights Manrico’s conflicts without resorting to the ridiculous or the inane, as Graham Vick frequently did in the Met’s embarrassing previous Il Trovatore production.

This season the great Anna Netrebko brings her take on Leonora to the Met stage. Netrebko’s Lady Macbeth thrilled audiences last season (the telecast of which is now available on DVD). It shall be interesting to see what she does in this psychologically and dramatically different role.

Yonghoon Lee as Manrico rallies his men

Yonghoon Lee as Manrico rallies his men

Manrico will be sung this season by tenor Yonghoon Lee, who stepped in at a moment’s notice for an ailing Jonas Kaufmann in last season’s Carmen. I can attest to his dramatic commitment and often exciting upper register. Manrico, like Don José, is a passionate character, but also more sensitive, more complex than the cardboard portrayals we sometimes find on the opera stage. McVicar’s direction allows for these other sides: The Castellor scene has a brief moment of repose (Ah, si, ben mio) where one feels that Manrico and Leonora, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, might finally find some peace together.

Dimitri Hvorostovsky as Count di Luna

Dimitri Hvorostovsky as Count di Luna

Russian baritone Dimitri Hvorostovsky repeats his essay of the Count di Luna this season. Di Luna is often your stereotypical opera villain who also loves the soprano. But again, here his character is given additional dramatic dimensions, especially during his face-to-face encounters with Manrico. I recall Hvorostovsky’s rich voice filling the role’s noble bel canto demands. Fans pray for his good health.

Dolora’s Zajick’s also returns as Azucena. Zajick owns this role: she’s a more familiar quantity to Met audiences, indeed it was the role of her Met debut in 1988. Her mad scene in the gypsy camp is central to the drama: Azucena lets it drop that she, in a frenzied state, mistakenly threw her own son into the fire instead of the kidnapped son of the old Count di Luna. Now there’s a whoops! In every performance Zajick delivers this delirium with aplomb and throughout the course of the opera keeps Azucena’s revenge completely in her sights. The marvelous basso Štefan Koćan sings Ferrando.

Marco Armiliato will conduct Il Trovatore this season.

McVicar’s sound dramatic sense here is matched by an effective mise en scene: the evocative sets are designed by Charles Edwards, the colorful costumes are by Brigitte Reiffensteul and the intelligent lighting is designed by Jennifer Tipton. Mr. Edwards has created a tall multidimensional wall that is rotated to create the many scenes; the vaulted background and the costumes evoke the troubled moods of the Spanish painter Goya. The famous Anvil Chorus is given a very visceral edge by large anvils struck by large sledge hammers. All in all it is an exciting production.

Il Trovatore is performed here in two large acts; the scenic transitions are swift and smooth, thus giving the drama forward propulsion without undue pauses.

Performance date: no, I didn’t see Trovatore this season. Above is relevant inserts into extended excerpts of my 2009 review of the David McVicar production of Il Trovatore when it was new.

Photos: Marty Sohl, from this season.

Beginning of a new season!! Wow! Enjoy!