BWW Reviews: Houston Grand Opera's IL TROVATORE is Spellbinding and Spectacular

BWW Reviews: Houston Grand Opera's IL TROVATORE is Spellbinding and SpectacularHouston Grand Opera (HGO) is closing their 2012-2013 season with a beguiling production of Giuseppe Verdi's IL TROVATORE. The melodramatic four act opera is based on the 1836 play EL TROVADOR by Antonio García Gutiérrez. Librettist Salvadore Cammarano died before he completed his work, which allowed Giuseppe Verdi the opportunity to suggest major revisions, which were accommodated by the young librettist Leone Emanuele Bardare. The most significant change was the expansion of the role of Lenora.

The classic opera, considered a standard in the repertoire, is set during an era of civil war in Spain during the 1400s. The Prince of Aragon, in an attempt to keep control of the throne, is battling the Prince of Urgel. One of Aragon's leading supporters, Count di Luna, is in love with Lenora, a lady-in-waiting to the Princess of Aragon, but Lenora is in love with a mysterious knight who comes to serenade her at night. The mysterious knight is Manrico, son of Azucena, a gypsy bent on avenging her mother. Lenora finds herself caught in a tumultuous love triangle that becomes increasingly more dangerous as secrets are revealed and personal grievances are carried out.

Direction by Stephen Lawless plays into the stereotypical portrayal of such classic opera fare. The characters are more caricatures afflicted by the highest levels of melodrama. Every performer goes for broke in the portrayal of every emotion, making the show delightfully weighty with anger, sorrow, vengeance, and love. While over-the-top, these emotions are made tangible, and the production is entirely enjoyable.

Patrick Summers' Conducting of the score moves the piece along at a great pace. He also plays into the melodrama of the score, bringing out the singing of the strings in the sweet, love torn melodies. Then the brass section and timpani thunder through the auditorium as anger erupts on stage and vengeance wreaks havoc.

Fight Direction by Brian Byrnes is mesmerizing. He often has many bodies in motion, creating large full-scale battle scenes that overwhelm the audience with movement and danger. However, my favorite "fight" is done during the iconic Anvil chorus ("Coro di zingari: Vedi le fosche notturne") at the top of Act II. He has timed each clash of swords to the music, having the clinking sound of the anvil come from the actors as they swing their swords at one another.

Marco Berti, starring as Manrico, lends his powerful and shimmering tenor instrument with pristine clarity to the score. He sweeps his way through the score and completely enriches the performance with his incredible and commanding voice. His rendition of "Di quella pira l'orrendo foco" is simply astonishing, especially in the final notes.

Singing Lenora, Tamara Wilson's radiant soprano voice is striking. She flits over the glottal stops and quick paced staccato notes that we associate with Giuseppe Verdi as if it is this is the easiest of techniques to master. Likewise, Tamara Wilson throws her voice way into the stratosphere of the highest of high notes, precisely and clearly finding each gorgeous pitch. Her rendition of the aria "D'amor sull'ali rosee" is sumptuously gorgeous and grandiose, which earnestly earns its spot as the best performance in the entire opera. Moreover, when she picks up the sword against Count di Luna and duets with him on "Mira, d'acerbe lagrime," her remarkable instrument is on luxurious and powerful display.

Even if she is not the romantic lead of the show, Dolora Zajick commands attention as Azucena with her astonishingly opulent and enchanting mezzo-soprano instrument. Simply put, Dolora Zajick's Azucena is miraculous! Every emotion and each ounce of her grief is believable and stirring, especially as she showcases her powerhouse and stunningly divine vocals on "Stride la vampa," "Condotta ell'era in ceppi," and "Giorni poveri vivea." In many ways, this is truly her show, and all I can say is, "Brava!"

Count di Luna is impeccably sung by baritone Tómas Tómasson. He puts immaculate strength behind his vocals, creating an aural experience that is invigorating and captivating. He is absolutely stellar on "Il balen del suo sorriso" and "Per me ora fatale," bringing magnetizing and mesmerizing life to the Act II arias.

Peixin Chen's phenomenally invigorating bass instrument opens the show with an authoritative rendition of "All'erta! All'erta" and "Di due figli vivea padre beato." He masterfully captures the attention of the audience and draws us into the intrigue and mystery of the production.

Soprano Natalya Romaniw's Ines, tenor Scott Quinn's Ruiz, tenor Kevin Ray's Messnger, and bass Nicholas Masters' Old Gypsy are all sung in great voice. Each wonderfully adds a dimension to the plot and keeps the story engrossing.

Chorus Master, Richard Bado has plenty to be proud of concerning this production. His large and expansive Chorus is astounding in this piece. They blend with one another gorgeously, creating aural landscapes that are pleasant and provocative.

The Supernumeraries in this production are phenomenal as well. As they should, they effectively complete the picture and adequately fill in any visual gaps. However, their work doesn't stop there. They never detract from the lead performers, but they are vibrant and ebullient compliments to the production.

Benoît Dugardyn's Set Design is austere and picturesque, depending on the way the lights play off of it. The wooden paneling on flies that move vertically and horizontally can be lit to appear welcoming and warm or to appear starkly squalid. The floor is an uneven jumble of ridges, complete with a pit that holds water in the center of the stage. His set also allows for special effects, such as fire to rise from the floor, giving this production of IL TROVATORE a splendid dose of spectacle.

Lighting Design by Michael James Clark is alluring and evocative. He expertly uses many hues to create ambient lighting that is telling of the emotionality of each song, with lighting cues changing throughout scenes. Moreover, the rich and textured design fills in the landscape and tells the audience of time and location.

Martin Pakledinaz's Costume Design is beautiful and picturesque. Every hue is befitting of the character and situation. I especially enjoyed the distressed gown worn by Lenora in Act IV, showing that she had not been spared from the attack on the castle.

Houston Grand Opera's IL TROVATORE is a marvelous closing production for an extraordinary season. It provides supple icing on the cake, if you will, as it easily appeases audiences. Even though it's a tragedy, if you're cynical, like me, you may find yourself lightly giggling at some the melodrama. But there is no denying, this production of IL TROVATRE gives audiences everything they could ever want from the show.

This spellbinding and spectacular production of IL TROVATORE runs in repertory with HGO's production of Richard Wagner's TRISTAN AND ISOLDE in the Brown Theater at the Wortham Center. IL TROVATORE closes on May 11, 2013 and TRISTAN AND ISOLDE closes on May 5, 2013. For more information and tickets to either production, please visit or call (713) 228 - 6737.

All photos courtesy of Houston Grand Opera. All photos by Felix Sanchez.

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BWW Reviews: Houston Grand Opera's IL TROVATORE is Spellbinding and Spectacular
Natalya Romaniw as Ines and Tamara Wilson as Leonora.

BWW Reviews: Houston Grand Opera's IL TROVATORE is Spellbinding and Spectacular
Marco Berti as Manrico, Tómas Tómasson as Count di Luna, Tamara Wilson as Leonora.

BWW Reviews: Houston Grand Opera's IL TROVATORE is Spellbinding and Spectacular
Tamara Wilson as Leonora and Marco Berti as Manrico.

BWW Reviews: Houston Grand Opera's IL TROVATORE is Spellbinding and Spectacular
Dolora Zajick as Azucena.

BWW Reviews: Houston Grand Opera's IL TROVATORE is Spellbinding and Spectacular
Tamara Wilson as Leonora and Tómas Tómasson as Count di Luna.

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David Clarke David Clarke has had a lifelong love and passion for the performing arts, and has been writing about theatre both locally and nationally for years. He joined running their Houston site in early 2012 and began writing as the site's official theatre recording critic in June of 2013.

Photo by Greg Salvatori.