By James Karas
If you are following the Metropolitan Opera’s streaming of its past production during the pandemic crisis, you are getting a feast of Verdi during the week of August 24, 2020. All the productions were seen in movie houses during the last decade and every one of them is worth watching, pandemic be damned, for a few hours at least.
The operas are streamed on a given date and can be watched any time for 24 hours after the initial broadcast.
On Tuesday, August 25 we could see a broadcast of the 2015 production of Il Trovatore with an all-star cast (you can hardly expect much less from an opera company with a budget of three hundred million dollars) directed by Sir David McVicar.
Il Trovatore is a demanding opera in many respects, but the common wisdom is that you need four outstanding singers. You need a tenor for the role of the troubadour Manrico, a baritone for his enemy Count di Luna, a soprano for Leonora, the women they both love and a mezzo soprano for the mysterious and vengeful gypsy Azucena.
In an evening that featured frenzied applause by the audience, the biggest and most sustained ovations were for baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky. He made a magnificent Count di Luna, the passionate, jealous and vengeful general who would stop at nothing to win the beautiful Leonora and avenge the death of his brother. He sang with splendid sonority and authority in a commanding and memorable performance. Part of the thunderous applause was for his physical condition. In June 2015 he was diagnosed with a brain tumor and his appearance on the Met stage for a single performance in the production was cause for thunderous applause.
Soprano Anna Netrebko is a superstar, of course, and her Leonora was commensurate with her status. Leonora is a lady in the Spanish court who has fallen deeply in love with a stranger (Manrico) who won competitions at the royal games. She gave him the laurels and fell in love with him. With her wide range and luscious voice, Netrebko expresses her devotion to Manrico, her disdain for Luna and her willingness to sacrifice her life for her lover. Netrebko is stunning in every respect and dramatic to Leonora’s last breath.
Mezzo soprano Dolora Zajik has sung the role of the gypsy Azucena at the Met so many times she may be able to register proprietary rights. Azucena is a woman with a big secret, an obsession for revenge, a nightmarish memory and controlled hatred. Her big secret: which baby did she throw in the pyre? Memory: her mother being burned on the pyre. Revenge: get even for the burning of her mother on the pyre. Zajik expresses all this with controlled intensity right to the last second of the opera where she is “victorious.”
Tenor Yonghoon Lee gave us a heroic Manrico and hit the high notes but his voice did not have sufficient colour to make a completely convincing lover and warrior.
McVicar’s 2009 production is relatively traditional. He sets the opera in Spain at the time of Napoleon. Set Designer Charles Edwards provides a revolving set which serves well for the numerous scene changes. The outside of the palace in the opening scene is indicated by a massive concrete wall and a huge staircase reaching to the top. The palace garden of the second scene is basically a bare stage. There is a wilder set for the gypsy camp and the famous Anvil Chorus. There are numerous nuns for the cloisters scene and a dramatic gate for the prison where Manrico is held.
Marco Armiliato conducts the Met Opera Orchestra and Chorus.
The plot of Il Trovatore is complicated, melodramatic, at times silly and inviting ridicule and satire but that all vanishes during a fine performance. As evidence you may see this production or know that Il Trovatore has been performed 655 times at the Met and that puts it in 11th place for frequency of production.
As for more Verdi operas from the Met this week, you can see La Traviata on Friday, Don Carlo on Saturday, and Falstaff on Sunday.
Il Trovatore by Giuseppe Verdi, directed by David McVicar was streamed on August 25, 2020 from the Metropolitan Opera. For more information go to: www.metopera.org