Il Trovatore

Il Trovatore at the Met

Trovatore-met-04302011  * Notes * 
The last performance of Il Trovatore at the Metropolitan Opera was Saturday's matinee. Since I have seen seemed David McVicar's production several times in San Francisco, it seemed best to simply listen at a score desk today.

Conductor Marco Armiliato had the orchestra sounding spirited. The racing tempi were infused with energy. The dynamics were not always dramatic, at times pianissimo was not terribly distinct from forte. Stefan Kocán was a dry Ferrando, but with good volume. I had trouble hearing Maria Zichak's musical line as Inez when she sang with Sondra Radvanovsky (Leonora) and the orchestra in Part I. The latter interpreted the emotional content of the text with clarity, and could always be heard. Dmitri Hvorostovsky (di Luna) has a lovely timbre but has a tendency to gasp when breathing. While Marcelo Álvarez was plaintive as Manrico, he almost seemed to choke on a note in "Ah, sì ben mio." Perhaps this was intentional, it did give this reviewer a physical sensation of being strangled. Dolora Zajick (pictured above, © Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera) was most impressive as Azucena. The madness of the character came through, with passion and without ugliness.

* Tattling * 
Though most of the audience was respectful and silent, someone left his or her mobile phone on and it rang during a rest with a fermata in Part 2. One would think being broadcast live in high definition would be incentive enough to turn off electronic devices.

Il Trovatore at the Met

Trovatore_E-Courir_Act-3 A revival of Metropolitan Opera's Il Trovatore, seen in San Francisco last year, opened this evening. Here is the Unbiased Opinionator's account of final dress rehearsal that occurred on October 21st. The Opera Tattler was quite surprised to hear that Patricia Racette was indisposed, as she is known for having vocal cords of steel. At the same time, one finds it difficult to imagine Racette in this role, especially since she is double cast with the incredible Sondra Radvanovsky.

* Notes * 
The bare-knuckled, long-time film critic for the New Yorker, Pauline Kael, once wrote of the Marx Brothers' "A Night at the Opera" that The Marx Brothers did to Il Trovatore what Il Trovatore deserved to have done to it. The plot line of the opera certainly requires of the listener not just a willing suspension of disbelief, but at times requires the listener unplug disbelief entirely, and to suppress outright laughter. My favorite howler is Manrico's singing his mother to sleep just before she is to be burned at the stake.

In addition to its lemon of a plot, the opera contains long stretches of rather pedestrian music. Thus, the success or failure of the piece rest entirely on the quality of the performance. Thursday's dress rehearsal was beset by many gremlins. Both Manrico and Azucena canceled due to illness, and the Leonora (Patricia Racette) was announced to be indisposed but, begging the audience's indulgence, would perform as scheduled. So an entirely fair review of this show must await an actual performance after flu, allergy, and the unwillingness of certain singers to "waste their time" on the dress rehearsal of an opera season has passed. That said, enough of the performance remained intact for UO to make a few comments.

It is difficult to comment fairly on Patricia Racette's Leonora in light of her announced indisposition. She marked many passages, but managed a full-voice account of her first act aria "Tacea la Notte," which confirmed my doubt that the versatile, dramatically satisfying Racette could ever make a true Verdian. Her voice is simply too light to ride out the huge Verdi arches and to prevail in the large ensembles. Luckier opera-goers will have a chance to experience Sondra Radvanovsky's portrayal later in the season. Again, an entirely fair review is simply not possible, given the circumstances.

The cover Azucena, Russian mezzo Elena Manistina, delivered a truly great performance, with a thrilling top, great sense of drama and a vocal combination of metal and warmth which are the hallmarks of a really fine singer. For this listener, the vocal and dramatic highlight of the afternoon was Azucena's "Stride la Vampa," which was sung so convincingly and with such dramatic menace that its inherent musical silliness was forgotten. On the other hand, Phillip Webb, the stand-in Manrico, showed potential, but is very green, and was probably very nervous. His "necktie tenor" delivery, numerous cracked notes, and ungainly and awkward acting revealed a promising singer much in need for further technical and dramatic training. Nonetheless, he delivered a sensitive "Ah si ben mio," followed by a good High C at the end of the cabaletta "Di Quella Pira." The Count di Luna, Serbian Zelkjo Luĉić, was dramatically strong, but his large voice had an unfortunate hootiness, which diminished his effectiveness throughout the afternoon, especially in his aria "Íl Balen del sul Sorriso."

Conductor Marco Armiliato, a veteran in this repertory, found just the right pacing to avoid dissipating musical energy. The chorus was precise and powerful. Smaller roles, some taken from the chorus, were strong and confident. It is very instructive to hear an orchestra play when a singer is marking. One hears how light the orchestrations are in Verdi's vocal accompaniments, and how unnecessary it is for a singer to yell to get over them.

As for the other aspects of the production, upon entering the house, one was confronted with a large painted panel (once called a fire curtain) in the style of Goya's Disasters of War. The horrified faces depicted on the panel brought to mind my first reaction upon entering the Met's tacky Belmont Room (or, as insiders call it, the "Boom Boom Room").

Charles Edwards' set design was stamped from the Met's usual set of all-purpose templates. A large rotating wall alternately represented the royal residence of the Count di Luna, and then Manrico's fortress. The ash grey, dreary background effectively set the tone for the darkness of the plot. David McVicar was the traffic cop, leaving the soloists to make stock gestures and the chorus piled up in the corner of the stage.

* Tattling * 
One of the entertaining aspects of attending a Met dress rehearsal is the intermissions, where people sit on the floor in the red-carpeted foyers and instead of spending $4.50 for a lousy cappuccino, unpack thermoses of coffee and unwrap sandwiches brought from outside. Among Thursday's audience was an entire class of grade school kids, who from up in the Family Circle listened in absolute silence, and who cheered loudly at the end of the show. Sitting out on the Balcony overlooking the Plaza during the intermission, I heard several of them talk excitedly about the performance and how cool the redesigned Lincoln Center fountain is. I felt that there is hope for opera's future after all.

Kelsey in Trovatore

Kelsey * Notes * 
Quinn Kelsey replaced Dmitri Hvorostovsky as the Count di Luna in San Francisco Opera's Il Trovatore yesterday afternoon. Kelsey sounded warm and rich, without being too dark in the least. His breath control was incredible, not one gasp was heard. On the other hand, he was not particularly menacing, though his portrayal of longing in "Il balen del suo sorriso" was clear and beautiful. There was much standing and singing, so as far as acting, Kelsey did not embody the role in the same way as Hvorostovsky.

Stephanie Blythe's last performance of this run went well vocally. Blythe does not seem possessed enough for the role, but her voice is commanding. Her top notes sounded secure from the back of the balcony and her duets with Marco Berti were robust.

* Tattling * 
Someone on the north bench of the back balcony kept eating out of a plastic bag during "D'amor sull'ali rosee." She rustled so loudly that both I and the person next to me kept trying to stare her down, but she was oblivious to our attempts. After Radvanovsky finished said aria, the woman in question clapped with great excitement, and went back to eating as soon as the music started again.

Sondra Radvanovsky Interview

Radvanovsky-martin Soprano Sondra Radvanovsky (pictured left in costume by Jai Alltizer for the current SF Opera production, photograph from John F. Martin) just had her San Francisco Opera debut singing Leonora in Il Trovatore. She sings two more performances and will be signing her first CD in the SF Opera Gift Shop tomorrow. The Opera Tattler spoke to Radvanovsky today in San Francisco as many costumed participants of LovEvolution made their way to Civic Center. Radvanovsky was perfectly on time, but was sporting a brace on her right ankle.

O no! What happened?
Someone tried to snatch my purse outside of Walgreen's (on Van Ness Avenue) last night, but I got him good. Unfortunately, I did sprain my ankle.

You are definitely the wrong person to mess with, you are obviously really tough. The Trovatore you are in seems very physical.
I do get thrown around quite a bit in the production! But I can take it, as singers, our bodies are our instruments, so I do take care of myself. I have a trainer and go to the gym.

How does it work with having different cast members come in? I know that Malgorzata Walewska and Quinn Kelsey are filling in for Stephanie Blythe and Dmitri Hvorostovsky at various points.
What often happens is that we get a pick-up rehearsal, but in this case, no, I haven't rehearsed with Quinn, so it will be exciting to see what happens! For Malgorzata, she was in the early rehearsals before Stephanie arrived, but that was 3 weeks ago.

You have sung Leonora quite a bit, for instance, you just sang it at the Met, and I heard you sing that role at LA Opera in 2004. Does it ever get dull?
I always find something new within the role, but tomorrow will be my 26th Trovatore since January, and Tuesday will be the 27th!

I bet you are ready to take on Ernani!
Yes, I head to Chicago on Wednesday to rehearse at Lyric Opera. Then I'm off to Paris for Don Carlo. I won't sing Trovatore for a year and a half when I sing Leonora at the Met again.

Your first experience of opera was hearing Eva Marton and Plácido Domingo sing Tosca at age eleven. Did you come from a musical family?
That's right, Placido at Arena di Verona, on television! I told my mother that I wanted to do that, and started voice lessons at that age. There are no musicians in my family. My mother is admittedly tone-deaf, and my brother isn't a musician either, though he likes music. My father, before he died, liked hearing me sing, but also didn't have a background in music. I always liked singing though, when I was a kid my mother bought me a Karen Carpenter record that I like to sing along with. I actually started off as a lyric mezzo, singing things like Cherubino, and then at 19 my voice just changed and suddenly I was a coloratura soprano. [Laughs]

It must have been amazing for you to sing with Domingo.
When I was 35 I sang Roxanne in Cyrano de Bergerac opposite of Domingo at the Met. It was a lifelong dream of mine and was incredible. Domingo has always been very supportive of me, he has only said positive things to me, even when my voice was "half-baked," as I call it. I used to get frustrated and ask when my voice would "finish baking", and he would tell me it would come, and he was right.

When do you think that happened for you?
It was Bill Friedkin's production of Suor Angelica last year in Los Angeles, that was the turning point when things really picked up for me. I felt comfortable in myself, and it was really the right opera at the right time.

It was an amazing performance you gave of Suor Angelica, and the whole set of operas was excellent. Have you sung that role before and are you singing it again?
Thank you! That was the first time I sang that role and I am doing it again in Spain in a few years, along with singing Giorgetta in Il Tabarro.

Do you think you'll ever sing all three roles in Il Trittico, like what Patricia Racette is doing right now?
No, I don't think so, perhaps if they were ordered differently it would be a possibility. It just seems like it would be very difficult both vocally and dramatically to sing the light part of Lauretta after turning yourself inside out for Angelica.

You have ties to Los Angeles, didn't you go to UCLA?
I went to both UCLA and USC. I started off at SC, and was there for 2 years for voice, but I had problems with my voice teacher there. So I ended up studying privately with Martial Singher in Santa Barbara, but doing a double major at UCLA in theater and voice. I was there for 3 years.

So that's why you move so well!
I learned a lot about how to act, how to hold myself, I even had to take dance. I had 2 left feet and now I have 1 and a half left feet instead! [Laughs] It is becoming increasingly the case that opera singers have to be a complete package.

Do you feel pressure about your looks?
Yes, of course. As singers we are out in the public eye and are scrutinized, it is part of the job.

How do you think a younger audience can be drawn to the opera? I can't help but notice you have a publicist that is a blogger, that you have a Facebook page, and you did a podcast for LA Opera.
Yes, we are going to launch a new web site with all the bells and whistles, and I am just starting out with Facebook too. Technology is part of it, like with the Met in movie theaters, and the SF Opera simulcast of Il Trovatore. Opera is not just for elitists, and it should be brought to as many people as possible, like the Opera in the Park that SF Opera did last month. Opera also needs to be modernized, has to speak to the younger people, and be believable to them. At the same time, new productions have to make sense, there has to be a reason for the choices made besides just being shocking.

Are you going to be in any of the Met simulcasts?.
Yes, I'm going to be in Il Trovatore, and I believe it is being broadcast in April of 2011.

Do you teach at all?
I do give master classes when I perform in the United States. I was in a young artists program at the Met, so often times younger artists have a lot of questions for me about how to get started. Yesterday I gave a class to the Adlers, and they are such a talented bunch. The class was supposed to be 2 hours, but it went on for 3, but it is a passion of mine, to help educate young singers.

You are booked until 2014-2015, that is just crazy, how much in advance you have to schedule. What are you looking forward to?
I will be singing Tosca and Aida at the Met. I'll also be singing a lot of Bel Canto, I've been learning a lot of music lately, and will be singing Norma and Donizetti's "Three Queens."

Walewska in Trovatore

Sfo-trovatore * Notes * 
Malgorzata Walewska took the stage as Azucena in San Francisco Opera's Il Trovatore last night. Walewska certainly came across as crazy, more so than Stephanie Blythe, with whom she is sharing the role. Unfortunately Walewska's voice did not project well over the orchestra, and when she sang with Marco Berti this was especially obvious. Berti's voice soared over the pit, whereas Walewska's simply blended into the sound of the orchestra. Perhaps it is just as well, the way she pushed the top of her voice was not pleasant, though the middle of her voice was very pretty.

The orchestra had a good amount of fire, and Luisotti kept everyone together without being the least bit dull. The chorus sounded gorgeous, and all of the singing was quite fine. Burak Bilgili (Ferrando) was better and sang more fluidly. As the Count, Dmitri Hvorostovsky still was not sounding his best, somewhat gritty and breathy in his last performance of this run. Likewise, Marco Berti and Sondra Radvanovsky were both consistent in their strong performances.

* Tattling * 
The Russian speakers in Box W whispered despite being hushed, but at least the noise was not incessant. Someone in Box V or W was photographing Hvorostovsky as he sang, and the camera being used kept beeping though it did not flash. The person in Row B Seat 3 of the orchestra had her mobile device on for most of "D'amor sull'ali rosee."

Il Trovatore at SF Opera

Sfo-trovatore * Notes * 
The 2009-2010 season at San Francisco Opera opened with
Il Trovatore last night. David McVicar's production is elegant, and Charles Edwards' rotating set made the scene changes straightforward. Maestro Luisotti's debut as music director was effervescent, and the orchestra sounded fine. The chorus was clear and together. Renée Tatum and Andrew Bidlack, the Adlers in the small roles of Inez and Ruiz, both sang well and with warmth.

Burak Bilgili seemed nervous as Ferrando, his notes were a bit choppy and he was slightly off from the orchestra. Dmitri Hvorostovsky was a confident Count di Luna, with lovely phrasing. Hvorostovsky did lack effortlessness at times and his breathing could be rather loud. On the other hand, Stephanie Blythe (Azucena) seemed to have endless lung capacity and a perfect smoothness in her transitions. Her last few notes of the opera were, however, a bit ugly.

The revelation of the evening was undoubtably Sondra Radvanovsky as Leonora. Her voice scintillates, her tone is lucid, her control is exquisite. Her Act III aria, "D'amor sull'ali rosee," was beautiful. Marco Berti made a valiant attempt in the title role, his voice being rather loud and not particularly subtle. He was able to match everyone else in volume, and he even managed to convey some pretty, tender moments, along with utter despair, in the last act.

* Tattling * 
Some people kept talking during the famous "Vedi le fosche notturne," despite being repeatedly hushed. A siren was heard in Act I, Scene 2. Someone's cellular phone rang several times as Hvorostovsky sang in Act 4. At least it was during his recitative.

The Met's 2008-2009 Season

September 22 2008: Gala
September 23- October 16 2008: Salome
September 24- October 9 2008: La Gioconda
September 27-December 19 2008: Don Giovanni
October 3-25 2008: Lucia di Lammermoor
October 13- November 13 2008: Doctor Atomic
October 20- November 20 2008: La Traviata
October 24- November 22 2008: Madama Butterfly
November 7- December 4 2008: La Damnation de Faust
November 21- December 13 2008: The Queen of Spades
November 28- December 20 2008: Tristan und Isolde
December 8 2008- January 8 2009: Thaïs
December 15 2008- January 10 2009: La Bohème
December 22 2008- January 1 2009: Die Zauberflöte
December 31 2008- February 26 2009: La Rondine
January 9-31 2009: Orfeo ed Euridice
January 24- February 12 2009: Rigoletto
January 26- February 7 2009: Lucia di Lammermoor
January 30- February 21 2009: Eugene Onegin
February 6-28 2009: Adriana Lecouvreur
February 16- May 8 2009: Il Trovatore
February 27- March 7 2009: Madama Butterfly
March 2- April 3 2009: La Sonnambula
March 9-21 2009: Rusalka
March 19- April 10 2009: Cavalleria Rusticana/Pagliacci
March 25- May 4 2009: Das Rheingold
March 31- April 22 2009: L'Elisir d'Amore
April 1-17 2009: Rigoletto
April 6- May 5 2009: Die Walküre
April 13-24 2009: Don Giovanni
April 18- May 7 2009: Siegfried
April 25- May 9 2009: Götterdämmerung
May 1-9 2009: La Cenerentola

The Met's 125th season includes 6 new productions and 22 revivals. Susan Graham is singing Marguerite and Don Elvira. Karita Mattila sings Tatiana and Salomé. Juha Uusitalo has his Met debut as Jokanaan in Salomé. Deborah Voigt stars in the title role of La Gioconda with Ewa Podleś as La Cieca, and Olga Borodina as Laura Badoero. Thomas Hampson is Athanaël in Thaïs, opposite of Renée Fleming, and Onegin, opposite of Mattila as aforementioned. Fleming also sings the title role in Rusalka. Anna Netrebko will sing Mimi and share the role of Lucia with Diana Damrau. Netrebko's Edgardo is, of course, Rolando Villazón. Angela Gheorghiu and Roberto Alagna (Giuseppe Filianoti in February performances) sing in La Rondine, the production is the same one that was seen in San Francisco last Fall and which will be broadcast this weekend. Gheorghiu stars in L'Elisir opposite of Rolando Villazón. Alagna also appears in Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci. John Relyea is in two productions, La Damnation de Faust and La Cenerentola. René Pape sings Hunding and Fasolt in the Ring and King Marke in Tristan und Isolde. Daniel Barenboim is making his Met debut conducting Tristan.

McVicar's Il Trovatore is a co-production with Lyric Opera of Chicago and San Francisco Opera. The Met performances feature Salvatore Licitra, along with Sondra Radvanovsky, Dolora Zajick, and Dmitri Hvorostovsky for the first performances, and then Marco Berti, Hasmik Papian, Luciana D'Intino, and Željko Lučić.

I am most likely to see Orfeo ed Euridice, the Mark Morris production was my very first opera when it was performed in Berkeley several years ago. I am disappointed to not see Ruth Ann Swenson or Andreas Scholl in this lineup for the next season.

Press Release | Official Site

The Minnesota Opera's 2008-2009 Season

September 20 2008: Il Trovatore
November 1 2008: Die Entführung aus dem Serail
January 24 2009: Faust
February 28 2009: The Adventures of Pinocchio
April 11 2009: Il Barbiere di Siviglia

The Minnesota Opera's next season includes a U.S. premiere of Jonathan Dove's The Adventures of Pinocchio, some Mariinsky stars, and Paul Groves as Faust.

Star Tribune Article | The Minnesota Opera Site

Il Trovatore at LA Opera

RadvanovskyfarinafrontaliStephen Lawless' production of Il Trovatore at Los Angeles Opera, designed by Benoit Dugardyn, was rather dark and oppressive. Thankfully, the principal singers were adequate and the music is wonderful, so the performance came off well. Soprano Sondra Radvanovsky has pretty voice that is neither piercing nor shrill. Mezzo-soprano Dolora Zajick was strong and clear as Azucena. Tenor Franco Farina was fairly good as Manrico, he had enough volume at least. Disappointingly, baritone Roberto Frontali as Count di Luna was too quiet.

Figlia d'Eva

BsotrovatoreThe Bavarian State Opera performance of Il Trovatore yesterday night was perhaps the most traditional production I have seen there to date. Zubin Mehta conducted quite well. Luca Ronconi's staging was conservative, it appears to be the only opera she has staged here. My only complaint was the gratuitous use of a scrim to separate Manrico from Leonora in Act III Scene 2, when they are supposedly in a room of the Castellor castle, which is under siege. This tired device has no purpose, there is no reason to have the characters in different spaces and have them sing touching hands against the scrim. The rest of the choreography was natural, no unnecessary collapses, no singing in strange positions, no undressing. The capture of Azucena in Act III, Scene 1 was especially passionate and chilling.

Margherita Palli's sets involved a series of large square pillars. The sets, one imagines, were a challenge, since there are 8 scenes. Instead of using some sort of device or ploy to move the sets around during the action, the scrim or the curtain was simply brought down after each scene. It would take several minutes for the set to change, and they brought the lights up in the hall each time. I have mixed feelings on this point, the long set changes broke the flow, but I appreciate the simplicity of this solution to set change. Gabriella Pescucci's costumes were not elaborate as far as the Spaniards were concerned, though the gypsies had colorful accouterments, which had more of a Middle-Eastern feel than what one typically associates with the Roma.

All together, the singing was of good quality. Alexandru Agache made a fine Conte di Luna, the baritone has a strong voice, and his singing in Act II Scene 2 with Maurizio Muraro (Ferrando) and the chorus of nuns was especially sublime. Mezzo-soprano Elisbetta Fiorillo had a somewhat gritty voice suited for Azucena, though at points she sang with celestial sweetness. Her struggle in Act III Scene 1 was, as I mentioned earlier, exceptionally good and not in the least artificial.

The lead soprano, Fiorenza Cedolins (Leonora), sang admirably, though with a great deal of vibrato, which seemed to overwhelm her at times. Tenor Dennis O'Neill was excellent as Manrico, the troubadour himself. Clear and sweet, his voice contrasted with Fiorillo's nicely.

The audience seemed to like I Puritani more than Il Trovatore, but preferred the latter to Così fan Tutte. Odd, considering the cast for Così was the most consistent, and in my estimation, the one for Puritani was the least, as Gruberova had far and away the best voice. All of these operas are short, in Italian, have complicated plots, and familiar music, though the music to Il Trovatore is likely the best known by laypersons.