It’s that crossing the line that is at the heart of Verdi’s Il Trovatore: Leonora has a plausible, if dull, suitor from her own side, but is in love with the troubadour of the title, who comes from a raggle-taggle bunch of, in David Bosch’s production, Brechtian travellers, scallywags and circus performers. And although the superstitious stuff about witches’ spells means nothing to the modern audience, the demonising of people whose lives differ from our own is recognisable terrain, and the barbaric acts of warring parties are too familiar.
This joint production with Frankfurt Opera is double cast for its 11 performances, throwing up an interesting and accidental contest between Cast A, dominated by the Italian tenor Francesco Meli as the troubadour Manrico and the Russian mezzo Ekaterina Semenchuk as his adoptive gyspy mother Azucena, and Cast B, in which there are outstanding performances from the Italian soprano Anna Pirozzi as Manrico’s lover Eleonora and, despite occasional eccentricities of intonation, the British baritone Christopher Maltman as her intended.
You would expect Gianandrea Noseda to be in his element conducting his countryman’s music, and there is gorgeous, colourful playing from the orchestra, and delectable chorus work with chorus director Renato Balsadonna.
The birth of Il Trovatore was a stop-go affair, interrupted by the composition and first performances of Rigoletto, and bearing many of that opera’s hallmarks too – the snatches of commentary in the chorus, the ingenious devices for propelling the action forward in the wake of each big finish. It’s all knitted together beautifully by Noseda, although, curiously, comes almost to a standstill at the last act, though this in any case has a tendency to fall away after all the high drama that precedes it.
Patrick Bannwart’s set and video projections scratch out a scraffito-style commentary of the action on stage: a baby cast into the flames, a fresh-faced lover replaced by the older outcast, with clunky butterflies and birds in awkward silhouettes staggering in the skies. None of that adds anything, but more striking is the monochrome set with its charred and blasted trees and barbed wire: we are somewhere in the 20th century – there’s a field telephone in use, but also a mobile phone for a selfie during an act of atrocity.
So, in this binary world, should you go for Cast A or Cast B? Fortunately, it’s close enough to count as a tie: Semenchuk and friends may win by a whisker, but Pirozzi sprinkles stardust on her team. This production will certainly stick around.
Booking for this revival opens on 18 October. Click here for more details.
The opera is relayed to cinemas nationwide at 7:15PM on 31 January, when the cast includes Dmitiri Hvorostovsky and Lianna Haroutounian. The relay is repeated in cinemas at 2PM on 5 February.
|What||Il Trovatore, Royal Opera House|
|Where||Royal Opera House, Bow Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 9DD | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Covent Garden (underground)|
04 Dec 16 – 09 Feb 17, Times vary for 11 performances
|Price||£9 - £190|
|Website||Click here to book via Culture Whisper and See Tickets|