Thursday, April 21, 2011

'Il Trovatore' by Welsh National Opera

21 April 2011

The Glyndebourne on Tour production of Rossini ‘s ‘La Cenerentola’ (in November 2010) was very enjoyable but didn’t really knock me off my feet. So last Saturday we returned to Milton Keynes Theatre so see whether the Welsh National Opera production of Verdi’s ‘Il Trovatore’ might be more our thing. ‘Il Trovatore’ is one of the great incomprehensible and implausible operatic plots – revolving around the fact that Azucena, the daughter of a gypsy burned at the stake for witchcraft by the Count di Luna, steals the Count’s baby son, meaning to throw the child into the flames but accidentally picks up the wrong baby and throws her own son to a fiery death. What was more of a problem for me was that most of the action (including this tragic accident) happens off-stage, or well before the start of the opera, and is merely reported to us. Also, most of the scenes are set in the dusk or night and the set, lighting and costumes were uniformly dark and gloomy. And, maybe I’m being over-critical but the singers seemed quite static, often pausing mid-duel and lowering their swords to sing an aria. I know opera is not necessarily supposed to be completely realistic but I felt the balance between the music and the drama was too skewed to the former. Caruso is supposed to have said that in order to stage ‘Il Trovatore’ all you need are “the four greatest singers in the world”, implying both that (according to Nicholas Payne) “the plot is so far-fetched and ludicrous that it is best to ignore it” as well as that the four principal roles are extremely challenging to sing. And, having got my criticisms off my chest, I have to say the music was wonderful. Verdi is much more my cup of tea than Rossini and the score was thrilling, dramatic, passionate and moving. The WNO orchestra (conducted by Simon Phillippo) was excellent and the WNO chorus was stunning. I’m not sure whether we saw the four best singers in the world but the principals were all very impressive, particularly the tenor Gwyn Hughes Jones as Manrico and Katia Pellegrino as Leonara. (I must also say that the WNO printed programme was one of the lengthiest and most informative I can remember.) I loved the music but I think I would have been as happy with a concert performance.



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