BWW Reviews: Metropolitan Opera's IL TROVATORE Is Alive and Well, Even Without the Marx Brothers

For the music alone, you can't beat Verdi's "Il Trovatore," with a demanding string of arias that, in the right hands (or voices) can raise the rafters. But when it comes to the action, you must suspend your disbelief at the door--or stay home and watch the Marx Brothers have fun with it in "A Night at the Opera."

David McVicar's handsome 2009 production for the Metropolitan Opera, seen on January 24, is worth seeing, as it undoubtedly will be for many years. While updating the setting from Spain in 1409 to the 19th century War of Independence doesn't add much to the action, it did gave McVicar and his designer Charles Edwards an excuse to use Goya's "The Disasters of War" etchings as inspiration for the set and curtain, and it is remarkably effective.

The tall, rotating unit set looms over the stage and works quite well in moving the action along seamlessly, whether from the castle, the gypsy camp, a cloister's courtyard or a dungeon. A couple of the scenes use a dramatic staircase that might have looked good on paper, and while it looks impressive, it proved a challenge for some of the characters to descend without looking nervous.

The costumes by Brigitte Reiffenstuel are handsome, though it's hard to see why Leonora, well sung by soprano Patricia Racette, is so busy changing clothes before and after she readies herself for the convent. Racette made a sympathetic heroine, full voiced and completely involved. She sang with spirit and charm and all the high notes, coloratura and modulation that the role demands, especially in "Tacea la notte placida..." and "D'amor sull'ali rosee." She acted with conviction--a challenge for anyone in this overly melodramatic piece.

Being from the stand-up-and-sing school of opera singing, tenor Marco Berti did just that. He had the Italianate sound, the notes and the power for Manrico, which is a rarity these days, particularly at a house the size of the Met. I could have wished for a little more finesse in his performance--more legato between the attacks--but I'm happy to settle for the security of his delivery. He tossed off "Di quella pira" with aplomb, thought it would have been better if he could have bounded off stage instead of getting caught up in a traffic jam of choristers in front of him.

All things considered, I'd rather hear Verdi sung by baritone Alexey Markov than by his countryman Dmitri Hvorostovsky, who seems less comfortable in this repertoire, judging by his recent "Ballo in Maschera." Markov's emotional "Il balen del suo sorriso" was a model of elegant singing and performance. I look forward to hearing him again.

The last of the opera's major roles is the gypsy woman, Azucena. Russian mezzo Elena Manistina, who made her house debut the previous week substituting for Stephanie Blythe, was back again for the Met's last "Trovatore" of the season. In an opera filled with ludicrous action, hers takes the cake, but she didn't let madness overwhelm her portrayal of a figure whose life has been ruled by revenge: for a mother who was burned at the stake and for the baby she herself has accidentally thrown on a pyre. She made a good impression in "Stride la vampa" and "Ai nostri monti," with strong delivery in her mid-range and above; her low notes didn't strike and terror in my heart, though.

Daniele Callegari and the ever-reliable Met Orchestra propelled the performance forward nicely toward its horrifying conclusion, with the help of the Met's indispensable chorus.

In short, it was a worthy performance--no small accomplishment at the tail end of the opera's run for the season.

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From This Author Richard Sasanow