Enrico Caruso’s famous quip that you needed to do Verdi’s Il Trovatore were the four greatest singers in the world was proven correct this afternoon by the Met’s HD telecast of the opera. When you have performers as good as the Met brought together for this show you realize what an extraordinary masterpiece Il Trovatore is and how its seemingly bizarre libretto sweeps an audience into a world of elemental passion when it’s done the way its composer intended. Incandescent barely does justice to the excellence of today performance. On balance, this was the best Trovatore I’ve seen in a lifetime of Trovatores.
Let’s start with the title part – Manrico. It’s one of the most difficult tenor roles in the literature. It needs a full throated spinto who must also be able to modulate his tone and spin his notes without crooning or going to falsetto. Yonghoon Lee sang the Troubadour with power and artistry. He has a bright and metallic sound that combined with his good looks and intense acting makes him one of the two best spinto tenors currently active; the other is Jonas Kaufmann. ‘Ah! si ben mio’ was sung with tenderness and beauty; all that was lacking was a trill. ‘Di quella pira’ was as exciting as it’s supposed to be, though there was no repeat and there was only one high C at the final ‘All’armi’ – actually it was a B natural; but it was a good one.
Leonora was Anna Netrebko. It seems like just yesterday that she was singing Zerelina, but today she’s the best Verdi soprano anywhere. Her voice is lush and even over its entire range. Her big scena in the first scene of the 4th act was a triumph. My only quibble is that all her high notes in ‘D’amor sull’ali rosee’ were sung, quite beautifully, piano or softer even the one marked ‘con forza’.
I have the same problem with Dmitri Hvorostovsky’s reading of ‘Il Balen’. He takes it too softly. The piece is unalloyed passion. The Count says he’s inflamed and his singing should reflect that combustion. There should be no holding back here. Hvorostovsky is perfectly capable of singing the aria that way, he chooses to offer a restrained version which I think a mistake. He was in fine voice throughout the opera, though his sound is not quite a bright as it was about five years ago. As most opera goers know, he has been treated for a brain tumor since June. He’s returning to London to continue his treatment after this performance. The audience stopped the show at his first appearance and the orchestra showered him with flowers thrown from the pit during the curtain calls.
Dolora Zajick has been the greatest Verdi Mezzo on the planet for the past quarter of a century. And remarkably at 63 she still is. She powers through Azucena like the music was a simple exercise. Combined with all that power is a fine sense of drama honed through all her experience with the role. She now holds the house record for the most appearances as Verdi’s demented gypsy.
Stefan Kocán displayed a focused tone as The Count’s lieutenant, Ferrando. The chorus gave its usual fine performance. The production was a revival of David McVicar’s 2009 staging. It’s on a revolving platform, which I don’t usually like, but here it worked well and didn’t make any noise as it turned. The platform allowed the action to move immediately from one scene to another which is fine except that are moments when there should be a break to allow the audience to show its approval, assuming such approval is warranted. For example, after ‘Di quella pira’. When you move immediately to another scene without sufficient audience interaction there’s a momentary empty feeling. Another problem was the ‘Anvil Chorus’. The Met’s anvils sounded like they were made out of wood; there was no metallic sound. Also the anvil bangers were out of sync.
I also heard the performance of Tuesday September 29, the second of the three performance of this run so far. It was not close to being as good as this one though all the participants were the same. Perhaps there was a let down between the opening night and the telecast. Good as were all the performers today the whole was greater than the sum of its parts. The energy and excitement that was generated was to a large part due to the drive and Verdian intensity that Maestro Marco Armiliato got from his orchestra and soloists. Gary Halvorson’s video direction was spot on, which means you didn’t notice any of it.
In summary, this was a great performance of a great opera that rarely gets what deserves from the typical staging it gets at even the best opera houses. If you missed it try to catch a repeat, or watch it on PBS when and if it gets there. It will likely be released on DVD and be well worth owning.
Metropolitan Opera House
October 3, 2015 Matinee
Giuseppe Verdi–Salvatore Cammarano
Count Di Luna………..Dmitri Hvorostovsky
Set Designer…………Charles Edwards
Costume Designer……..Brigitte Reiffenstuel
Lighting Designer…….Jennifer Tipton
Stage Director……….Paula Williams
TV Director………….Gary Halvorson