Il trovatore (ROH, 7 July 2016)

Last night the Il trovatore saga (with the urge to see it sooner rather than later – the production runs in the Fall Season as well -, the semi-obsession with Haroutounian’s name, the double booking and the subsequent ticket exchange… for the second cast) has come to end. The first good news is that I have finally seen a Verdi opera where the plot isn’t stupid. The second good news is that I liked the production.

Leonora: Anna Pirozzi
Manrico: Gregory Kunde
Count di Luna: Christopher Maltman
Azucena: Marina Prudenskaya
Ferrando: Maurizio Muraro
Ines: Lauren Fagan
Ruiz: David Junghoon Kim
Old Gipsy: Jonathan Fisher
Messenger: Douglas Telfer
Conductor: Gianandrea Noseda | Orchestra and Chorus of the ROH
Director: David Bösch | Co-production with Oper Frankfurt

Things started a bit anonymous and I was wondering if going for the second cast wasn’t a bad idea after all. Sometimes I like to shake things up a bit, take a chance when it is offered. Since this opera is strongly anchored in Azucena and Semenchuk has not made a particularly good impression so far, I thought I’d give Prudenskaya a chance. It turned out to be a good call. I’m not familiar with the great Azucenas to call a great one from memory but within this production Prudenskaya made a very strong impression on me.

With her very slight frame and goth makeup/attire, she seemed like a cross between Sally from Nightmare before Christmas, Sue Trinder from the Fingersmith film and Baba Yaga 1 with a bad case of (fake?) PTSD. That is enough to leave a lasting impression. It’s quite impossible to imagine her as Gregory Kunde’s mother which might even be the point.

Vocally she was pitch black in colour and though I like darkness I wish she occasionally brightened it a bit. Her top (this is another role that seems to call for a wide range) appealed to me a great deal, to the point where I started thinking in what other things I could see her where more of that was featured. I’m sure Azucena isn’t supposed to sound pretty (that’s Leonora’s territory) but, like I said, I found myself wishing for some variation in colour if not in mood.

Pirozzi (Leonora) seems to me a classic-type singer. It’s less about (modern) acting with her and more about grand gestures and hitting the money notes. To be fair she hit them and she pierces through the orchestra without issue and has a tool of varied and well employed dynamics. She’s also one of those singers that sounds very good with the orchestra, regardless of what you think about the beauty of her tone or its particular uniqueness or lack thereof. She was disciplined and kept time with them and where she had to match the strings in tone she matched them etc. The recits weren’t so riveting but she wasn’t rubbish either. With regards to the money notes, the biggest fault I can make is that you could tell one was coming as she would get in position well in advance. Then again, her role is written very belcanto-style, so you know 1) there will be money notes, 2) they will come by the end of the scene.

Maltman as the Count di Luna was the most consistent throughout. He pretty much carried the first two acts (after the intermission the others caught up). Having first encountered him as a very unpleasant (dickhead) Count in Le nozze di Figaro I was thoroughly pleased with his dickheadeness in this production 😀 He looked the part (trenchcoat, long, unwashed hair – sign of the evil bastard) and was reliably cold.

the gypsy camp | click for more pictures

Kunde as the suave “gypsy” soldier/troubadour was not quite as far fetched as it may seem. I can see how Meli in the main cast would look the young and forlorn lover. Kunde’s Manrico appeared – or I chose to follow that route and he didn’t insult my intelligence – like the eternal romantic, living on the fringes of society where such things as age might be irrelevant.

There was a funny moment at the beginning, when the Count is in the garden at night, Leonora comes out and is moving towards him then Manrico enters and goes all (foreshadowing!) “You unfaithful woman!” or something along those lines. She answers “Oh, no, no! For a moment I thought he was you [they’re dressed fairly similar] but of course I came here to meet you!”. The audience laughed. They (and I) also laughed when, later on, the Count asks (rhetorically) “Where is that woman who has made me do these horrible things?” and she’s of course just behind him (lax security strikes opera libretto again) and goes “I’m right here!”.

The point I was trying to make with the first funny moment is that Leonora is attracted to Manrico beause of his valour (he won all the jousting events) and his musical skill. The fact that the gypsy camp is designed as a very anything goes type of place (nice nod to queerness, with the gypsy bride being a chap who’s later on picking up a gun to help Manrico out and other such) reinforces the exotic nature of his upbringing/life which would attract a straight-laced court lady.

An unexpected moment of queerness happened at the beginning, when Leonora is skipping merrily and singing about her love for Manrico. This one is a bit more handy with a knife than you’d expect from a lady in waiting to the Princess of Aragon – she has a proper knife with which she carves L + M = ❤ on trees! (much to the audience’s amusement).

Well, her (mezzo) confidante, Ines (it’s always Leonora and Ines in these operas set in Medieval Spain, eh?) takes her knife out of concern for her safety. Wouldn’t you know, Leonora pretty much seduces her in order to get the knife back. I was thinking hello, ladies! Had the opera gone down that road a lot of things would’ve turned out for the better… But I’m 100% Verdi never intended that; I’m still holding a grudge against his legacy for changing Ernani from mezzo to tenor. Anyway, thank you direction for remembering that mezzos aren’t just villains or (chaste) confidantes.

Kunde (last seen by me in that unfinished Tito from Aix) somehow found his stride in the second part of the performance. Di quella pira was his strongst point of the evening – even the chorus showed vigour, something that was lacking in the famous Anvil Chorus. His top notes were quite strangled and covered but he managed it well otherwise and was full of energy. I’d say his singing lacked a certain amount of nuance (was dry) but he sounded Italianate. In conclusion, a bit past his prime but committed and showing his experience.

As far as Maestro, he kept the focus on the singers to the point where the score seemed a bit anonymous. Again, I’m not familair with this repertoire to make a call whether that was good or bad. It suited me, as everyone could be heard at all times. I also think credit could be given to Maestro for showcasing the strengths of his singers over their limitations.

The production was modern and minimalist and worked very well. There were two main tableaux: one was the garden where the lovers meet, the other the gyspsy camp. The garden gradually changes from trees in bloom to the final – very impressive – pyre, seemingly employing all the initial elements. The gypsy camp remains pretty much unchanged. It contains a gypsy wedding vehicle and Azucena’s caravan, both in lively colours.

the ROH Amphitheatre terrace is at the top. It’s a good (though crowded) spot to spend the intermission(s) especially on hot days

Some have wondered how come it’s not just two casts but two runs of Il trovatore within the next 8 months. From last night’s attendence I can tell this was a shrewd move. These classic repertoire operas sure fill the house, first cast or second cast. Also they seem to bring a wider variety of people – lots of young people (lots of very well dressed people! Due to hot/stuffy weather (23C, you can laugh but once I almost passed out at ROH in the Summer and I really don’t want to go through that again) I went in what amounts to my work attire (our office is boiling) but I’ve seen some fabulous/theatrical getups along with trainers and t-shirts), gay ladies, gay men, more ethnic variation that usual. Somebody three rows behind me had their very well behaved 10 year old (or thereabouts) looking daughter with them. I don’t think I could’ve made it through 3 hours of Verdi when I was 10, though the Anvil Chorus was something I was very fond of at that age.

I was very lucky that our row had two unaccounted for seats right in the middle and three other very well behaved people who refused to upgrade to them. So after being sandwiched between two other people before intermission I took a seat with nobody on eaither side later on. I also made a great opera-related find this week, when I ran into the cheapest Polos (53p) at the garage near my work! I branched out on the Spearmint variety. I can report they are the best ever budget mints 😀

  1. Azucena’s lair as Baba Yaga’s hut on chicken legs sounds like a very good idea to me! 

About dehggial

Mozart/Baroque loving red dragon

Posted on July 8, 2016, in italian opera, live performances, mezzos & contraltos, operatic damsels in distress, romantic opera, royal opera house and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 22 Comments.

  1. I am very jealous. I so wanted to see this Trovatore, with this cast (is it really the second cast?!) but I had to go on a business trip and flying to London just doesn’t fit with me. I heard great things of Pirozzi, and IMHO Verd wrote his two best arias ever for Leonora in Trovatore. I’m very glad you enjoyed it!

    • Yes, the first cast is Haroutounian/Meli/Semenchuk/Lucic. I was just thinking about what I said how she worked so well with the orchestra (PIrozzi I mean) and maybe she also did so well because she is quite the Verdian singer. Thus was her debut with the house and she was well received so they might get her back.

  2. i read the bit on Leonora seeing the count by mistake and thought “she can see???” . and realized the first ever trovatore i watch was of course A.Harteros’ take of the blinded girl with the cup of death (which is still my favorite.. i looooove the masked shaddow following her)
    (but you have to admit, the music to this and to Traviata is pretty catchy! unlike that fraud Pace..)

    • I don’t know, like I said the the writeup, the conductor focused on the singers. But what they had to sing wasn’t bad.

      I wonder, though, now that I know how the libretto goes, if Leonora is blind in that production, does it make sense for Manrico to accuse her of having tried to meet the Count?

      • no, Manrico was more occupied with the stripped dancer 😉 . no, he had no issue, she was being grabbed by the Count.. i was too busy looking at her.. and JK was busy slapping the black tarp… (i have the whole production of course 😉 , i’d recommend it anytime)

        • I think you dropboxed it to me at some point 😉 I remember that thing with train engine or whatever that was, some big engine thing.

          no, Manrico was more occupied with the stripped dancer😉

          oh… sounds like one of those things that you have to watch a couple of times to figure out what’s what. Did you write about it in detail?

          • i only wrote about how much i enjoyed the stripped dancer 😉 (here). The first performance was actually in that same trip i went to see VK as Oktavian, but i couldn’t get tix coz JF was so hot and famous…

            • btw, if you want to see the London production (with the main cast, not the one I wrote about) ROH has actually uploaded it!

              • oh? that’ll be tonight music then! i quite like the music! thanks. (now time to eat dinner and zz, i tried several sopranos 2 nights ago and got such headaches i’ve been staying off them 😀 )

                • hehehe, which sopranos? sweet dreams then.

                  (btw, Non piu di fiori was interesting, I think I need to listen to it about 10 more times to have a complete idea; it seemed lighter in sentiment than you normally get).

                  • you mean VK’s latest take? it was rather “dark” compared to her 1996’s recording 😀 . but interesting enough as she started the recit it got me thinking about the flow just at that point (and remember we had this discussioin <— i need to give you credit for, my opera dream/wish list) of VK singing Vitellia to ACA’s Sesto? 😉 ) . Anyhow, and then JDD was also talking about how important that recit is!

                    • yes, that one. Dark? I was also comparing to her recording and I thought otherwise! 😀 I will listen again when I get back from work. I made it to Dalila last night, what with all the Wagner stuff in between.

                    • oh ja, i didn’t make it to Dalila.. indeed, all that Wagner in between.. and then i kept hit “restart” back to Vitellia 😀

                    • yes, I spent at least 45min with Vitellia then I thought I should listen to the rest.

                    • (ps- a bit unrelated.. you lost 1 brownie for suggesting SM’s disinganno putting you to sleep in the latest il trionfo :p )

                    • I can admit the brownie, but don’t blame SM, rather Haim 😉 it was the slow pace, not the singing that lost me. Also the production, I didn’t feel it.

                    • i felt it just great! spend 99% of my time staring at SM!!! she’s got this wicked smile!! toooootally got me… (and i looooove Haïm, watch out for another 1/2 lost brownie :p )

                    • you can’t deduct a brownie for SM when I didn’t have an issue with her 😛

                    • ps- by dark i don’t mean psychology but heft in voice.. the same way we typically discuss Sesto does not have enough heft except when VK sings it.. i am not used to hearing Vitellia with such heft 😉 (it made me think she was ready to pick Sesto up and break him/her in 1/s)

                    • I thought it was so weird hearing her worrying about Sesto! Haha. Heft? I really need to hear it again, I was surprised how much bright voice she interposed. She did a lot with colours (as usual) so I need to be able to incorporate everything before I make a final call. Also finally a low G that didn’t sound unnatural. That being said, Hartelius’ was rather nice and I think ACA also does well there.

                    • i tell you, i’m spending too much time these days listening to sopranos and light mezzo.. it’s quite an adjustment hearing VK again 😀

                    • I know! There is an alarming amount of light mezzos in this generation of singers. Also people with more character in the voice are needed.

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