Il Trovatore Thursday 4th April 2001
The week I arrived in New York the final performance of Acis and Galatea under Jane Glover's baton was on the same night as the last Trovatore at the Met, next door. For no particularly good reason, I ended up at the Met and will have to regret missing Acis & Galatea.
This was a REALLY strange Trovatore. I sat next to a woman who had seen every Met production of the opera since the war and she was shocked as each crazy scene unfolded in this 'alternative' show. Her face lit up as, in one of the breaks, I asked about Bjorling and Merrill in the roles. And she had actually met Jan Peerce personally! (And his name is pronounced J-A-N as in the month).
But back to the production, or should I say the lack of it? We were introduced to two huge swinging flats intersecting centre stage. One was white with dark clouds above while the other was dark with light clouds. An angulated return allowed the quite useful device of having two people visible on stage but each out of each other's sight. [This is also used by MAD comic in the 'spy versus spy' section, just before one blows the head off the unsuspecting other, around the corner.] At least twice in the opera this is used to advantage - first when Leonora mistakes Di Luna for Manrico in the dark. In the monastery scene they also placed the men around the corner from each other, thus they were visible from the audience but not to each other.
The soprano was wonderful African American, Michele Crider. She had a bit of a beat in the voice but an accurate coloratura and perhaps a high, slightly sharp high 'D' when called on. [Her Amalia in Masked Ball the following week was even more suited to her ample dramatic voice.]
The surprise of the night was Russian Irina Mishura as Azucena. She was credible, consistent and vocally marvellous. She has already done Amneris and would be an asset to any company lucky enough to secure her services.
The men were not as impressive. Richard Margison started weakly. Off stage in his serenade he sounded hoarse and dry. But once warmed into this difficult part, he coped with 'Ah si ben mio' and just one verse of 'Di quella pira', with two high syllables ... the second clipped short. I was told that this show stopper was originally sung a few weeks ago from some sort of trapeze! There was apparently also a dramatic but near slap-stick entrance which had been 'cut' by the last performance of the current season which started in December with a different cast.
Valery Alexeev was an adequate DiLuna but somehow did not shine or go the extra mile. Carlo Rizzi seemed to take some parts faster and declined to allow the rubato needed to make the baritone's 'Il balen ..' more than workaday and adequate which is was.
Comparisons are odious, but Dennis O'Neil and Ian Vayne were streets ahead with Simone Young in Sydney last January. She insisted on two verses of everything!
They utilised no fewer than three different moons. One was large, red and round, more like Jupiter close-up. Another was a classic, cheesy ¼ moon appearing brighter than the clouds, and evidently BELOW them! A very queer look indeed! An extraordinary touch was, rather than an anvil, we saw an enormous suspended crucible of molten bronze high above the chorus. It was lowered at the end of the chorus to splatter white hot liquid into a hole in the stage.
Extraordinary! But to little dramatic effect, apart from drawing attention to the producers. It is easy to understand a small gipsy band beating some horse's hooves into shape, but smelting their own alloy is hardly credible! But this is opera!
The set for Di Luna's camp in Act III was a long banquet table across the stage cutting it into two with a swirling tiled red and white floor which was used throughout. It was more like a circus than the field of battle. And behind were three lines of hanging objects - quite mysterious - like a clothes line.
Updated and stylised opera. So 'anything goes'. But it failed to catch on. I rather liked the touch of Azucena clutching, fondling and finally hanging a framed picture of her long deceased mother in her 'stride la vampa' scene. Others I spoke to found it trite and unnecessary.
The Metropolitan season book states that this production is by Graham Vick and sets by Paul Brown. For some reason, neither name appears in the program. I wonder if changes after the opening involved these personalities distancing themselves from the current show. However noble the attempt at artistic heights, this production has little merit to my mind. Does it detract from the Verdi? If a majority think so then it should not be revived.
comments by Andrew Byrne .. (Sydney physician visiting New York)