Il trovatore - Royal Opera House, 13 April 2009 (first night)
If the first night singing didn't quite hit dress rehearsal standards (I wonder why?) it was still the high point of this otherwise dismal production. A stop-start narrative and half-cooked characters make Il trovatore not the easiest opera to stage. Nevertheless, it's musically strong, truly inventive and a production that steers the audience away from too much left-brain analysis can capitalise on the thrills buried not too far beneath the surface.
But not this one. The monumental sets with their giant pillars and furnaces and gratings are handsome but randomly irrelevant - a palace patio, a railway station, an industrial pizzeria. And when a character really needs some help from the furniture, there's nothing there. How can Leonora mistake Luna for Manrico when they're both in plain view in front of her? Now if Roberto Alagna had been given a nice pillar to hide behind, we would all have sniggered less.
Not that there is much action. Characters barely engage with each other, movement is restricted to stock operatic gesture. It's as if they've all rehearsed on different continents from an Acting for Dummies video and come together for the first time tonight.
Add murky lighting, top off with thumb-twiddling set changes every twenty minutes, and what little momentum is built up in the turgid, static scenes evaporates. The final nail in this particular coffin is the unintentional comedy of the last scene, with everyone writhing on the floor like salted slugs.
Oh well, at least the sword fights (always a ROH strong point) provided a few seconds thrill.
Dmitri Hvorostovsky's dignified Luna provided the vocal highlight. Am I abusing my power? Luna asks himself as he realises there's only one way he's ever going to get the girl. This is no cartoon villain, as Hvorostovsky's noble military bearing emphasises, but a victim of his own desires.
Roberto Alagna's vocal production didn't have the ease of the rehearsal, and he often seemed disengaged - though he did manage to pull out his big numbers with a certain panache. And I was touched to see what a generous colleague he proved to Malgorzata Walewska, another singer whose form had dipped somewhat. At least she managed to whip up some gypsy passion (an emotion sorely lacking elsewhere). Her harsh, throaty vocals wouldn't pass muster in every role, but they added a certain dramatic integrity to her Azucena.
Sondra Radvanovsky was the clear audience favourite. She showed much more emotional involvement in her character than she had at the rehearsal, but at the expense of a degree of vocal control. It's a big, jolie-laide sort of a voice, and I'm not sure yet if I actually like it, but right now Radvanovsky's miles ahead of any other Leonora.
Mikhail Petrenko (Ferrando) and Monika-Evelin Liiv (Ines) were again strikingly impressive.
Not so Carlo Rizzi. Although the Royal Opera House orchestra played cleanly and accurately for him, he just could not keep them together with the singers, racing ahead for every cabaletta, dragging his heels behind whenever the pace slowed. But though he took a maximalist line, with changes of pace or scoring highlighted (often grotesquely so), nothing could compensate for the depressingly inert spectacle on stage. Time to throw this particular baby on the fire if you ask me.
I should perhaps point out that the majority of the tourist-heavy holiday audience were massively enthusiastic about the whole thing - there's clearly no accounting for
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