"Il Trovatore" at Her Majesty's Theatre
Saturday 25th August 1928
"Il Trovatore" is the most tuneful of all Verdi's scores - some say the most tuneful in all Italian opera - but it is also the most thinly orchestrated. To modern ears, accustomed to the rich harmonic backgrounds and counter-melodies of Puccini and Wagner, or even to the later Verdi, exemplified in "Aida," the perfunctory vampings on the harp and broken chords on the violins pianissimo that accompany some of the stormy arias in "Il Trovatore" must perforce seem hopelessly insipid. In this opera Verdi has thrown almost all the responsibility for emotional effect upon the voices. The vocal line, pure and unadorned, must portray the feeling that lies behind the dialogue. That it usually does this very vividly is a sign of the inherent genius in the composer which was to find fuller expression later in "Otello" and "Falstaff." But this fact makes it important that the opera should be beautifully sung. In more complex works, even if the singers be indifferent, the orchestration will often of itself keep interest at a high pitch; but in "Il Trovatore" indifferent singing means disaster.
It is needless to say, considering the standard of the present Melba - J. C. Williamson company as shown in earlier productions of the season, that Saturday night's singing at Her Majesty's Theatre was far from indifferent. Indeed, it was superb. The old, well-worn arias like "Stride la vampa" and "Tacea la notte" took on new beauties, so that one listened to them as to things possessing all the warm freshness of youth. The singers had to respond again and again to surging applause, not only at the end of each act, but during the progress of the opera as well. In later examples of opera it is often disconcerting when the conductor has to stand with poised baton while the vocalist bows to the audience: but on Saturday night Signora Arangi Lombardi in the role of Leonora, walked across to the footlights from the porch on the right (whither Leonora had retreated after the last notes of "Tacea la notte"), bowed again and again, and went back to the porch in order that she might descry the Count di Luna in the shadows, without the audience feeling that there was anything at all amiss. The plot of "II Trovatore," with all its blood and thunder, never gives the slightest illusion if reality; and, after all, it is only the braking of an illusion that makes objectionable an actor's response to his audience's acclaim. The opera amounts to little more than a series of arias threaded together like beads on a string.
The role of Leonora showed Lombardi to her admirers in a new light. Hitherto, they have heard her in heavier dramatic roles. It was a wonderful tribute to her art that the voice which rang out so triumphantly in "Aida" and in "Turandot" could adapt itself on Saturday night to the style of the earlier Verdi which, while it has its dramatic moments is predominantly florid and fluid. She reached her highest peak of achievement in the first scene of the last act, in the aria "D'amor sull ali rosee." Radiant and pure, her voice soared up to some of the most exquisite pianissimos imaginable on the high notes. Once again the sympathetic warmth of her tone in all parts of the range, and the repose with which she produces were there constantly to delight the audience. It was no wonder that applause burst forth with a tremendous crash when she had finished. The clapping was much more vigorous here than after the 'Miserere' immediately following which calls forth its need of enthusiasm because of the very familiarity of the music. But if "D'amor sul ali rosee" proved Lombardi's artistic triumph, it was not so surprising from a technical point of view as the later solo, "Mira d'acerbe lagrime" wherein she adapted her voice admirably to the demands of the swift ascending and descending phrases, which call for a coloratura rather than a dramatic soprano.
The tenor role of Manrico was sung by Francesco Merli. He invested it with a robustness of voice and of bearing that could not fail to be appealing. In the duet with Leonora, near the end of the third act, and in Manrico's exhortation of his soldiers which brings that act to so spirited a close his quality was particularly fine. The highest notes rang forth with a clear overtone, powerful yet unforced. Apollo Granforte, also, as the Count di Luna interpreted with authority. His solo "Il Balen," in the cloister scene, alternated between a full, commanding, and resonantly warm tone and tender phrases in pianissimo that won admiration from the audience for their exquisite emotional value and for the control over production which they betokened. The beautifully judged proportion in this reading commended itself to the audience, so that applause was loud and long.
Guiseppina Zinetti, as the turbulent gipsy Azucena, sang with a great deal of fire, especially in "Stride la vampa," and the following declamation. The acting, also, was strongly dramatic too. The rolling of the eyes, as of a wild animal at bay', when Azucena was captured and questioned by di Luna, gave the scene of the encampment a touch of tragedy that surpassed any supplied by the music. Fernando Autori sang freely and impressively the long narrative allotted to Ferrando in the opening scene; Ida Mannarini made a satisfactory Ines, and Lulgi Parodi sang the two small parts of a messenger and soldier.
As the opera season goes on it becomes superfluous to call attention to the excellent work of the chorus. Even such a hurdygurdy-like melody as that which opens the third act of "Il Trovatore" became lively and interesting as these choristers sang it on Saturday night. In the cloister scene there was an exquisite contrast between the martial tones of the male chorus on the stage (albeit this chorus sang very softly) and the ethereal floating chant of female voices that drifted on from behind the scenes.
Signor Antonio Fugazzola conducted the orchestra. He did all that could he done with Verdi's tenuous score. The climaxes were always crisp and vigorous; the conventional accompaniments always suave and flowing.
As far as the settings were concerned: one of them deserves special praise, as the most tenderly beautiful of any that have been seen during the present season. It was that for the Miserere scene. Across the battlements there for the Miserere scene there appeared on the right a long wing of the palace, and on the left an entrancing view of a river winding its way into the distance in gleaming silvery curves, beneath the light of the moon. It was the lighting of this scene that rendered it so effective. The part played by electricians in the staging of an opera is not often enough recognised.
More than half the eight scenes of "Il Trovatore" are enacted in the deep purple shadows of the convent cloister, the ante-room of the palace, and the prison cell, so that the onlooker's eye had to become accustomed to the dim half-light, in which Signora Lombardi's diamonds and the beading on her robes, catching an occasional ray of light, flashed back and provided the only gleam. There was vivid contrast between these scenes and those of gypsy camp and of the camp of the Count di Luna. The scarlet handkerchiefs, skirts and gaudy trinkets of the gipsy girls and the shining helmets of the soldiers seemed all the brighter after the gloomy preceding scenes. Arangi Lombardi, whose husband, Signor Arangi, watched her performance from the dress circle, wore several gorgeous gowns made in the long-trained fashion of the fifteenth century. The most beautiful of them was her wedding gown in the third act. Of white satin richly stamped in a golden coral pattern, it was almost covered with a long white veil, caught in her head with a quaint coronet with upstanding wings of gold. The dull red of Merli's wedding garments, and the vivid scarlet of the brocaded curtains at the back of the stage, made a perfect setting for her white an gold gown. Granforte as the Count di Luna was even more gorgeously arrayed, and Zanetti wore for her gypsy dress some beautiful hand woven clothes patterned in striking colours, which she had brought with her from Italy.
Lina Scavizzi was among the audience in the dress circle. Judge and Mrs Heydon occupied one box, and Dr and Mrs Donald Finlay and Mr and Mrs Mervyn Finlay were in the other. Others in the audience were the Misses Sheldon (2), Sir Hugh and Lady Denison, Mr and Mrs Sep Levy, Mr and Mrs R. E. Denison, Mr and Mrs Spenser Brunton, Miss Jessie Tait, Mr. and Mrs. F. J. Davy, Mrs S Hordern, Mrs. Woolf (Perth), Mr Henry Braddon, Judge and Mrs. James, Mr and Mrs Dennis Allen, Mrs Leo Quick, Dr and Mrs Harry Harris, Miss Nell Cobcroft, Dr and Mrs Herbert Marks, Mrs Spencer Watts, Mrs. R. M. Sly, Mrs. W. F. Foster, Mrs. W. A. Dettman, Miss N. Garvan, Mr and Mrs. Norman Pope, Mrs C. Kingston (Melbourne), Dr and Mrs Crawford Robertson, Mr and Mrs A. Nathan, Dr and Mrs. H. Clayton, Mrs Hugh Ward, Mr and Mrs. Kelso King, Mrs. W. Malden, the consul for Italy and Donna Grossardt, Mrs T. Hogan, Mrs Hartley D'argent, Dr and Mrs Godsall.
Review found in The Sydney Morning Herald Monday August 27 1928
This is one of three reviews of the Melba - Williamson Tour of 1928 discovered under Dr.Byrnes surgery floor during renovations.