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03 July, 2007

Il Trovatore in Sydney. Classic grand opera with bells and whilstles

Il Trovatore. Giuseppe Verdi. Sydney Opera House.

Tuesday 3rd July 2007.

ManricoDennis O'Neill
LeonoraNicole Youl
AzucenaBernadette Cullen
Count di LunaMichael Lewis
FerrandoShane Lowrencev
ConductorRichard Armstrong
DirectorElke Neidhardt
SetsMichael Scott-Mitchell

Dear Colleagues,

This would have been a worthy season opening, having all the attributes of good retail opera. Il Trovatore is a dark work yet Ms Neidhardt does many inspired things in her production which is set in Franco's Spain. Tuneful solos, duets, trios and concerted singing can make for a satisfying night out. And our opening night cast did not disappoint.

The most challenging vocal feat of the night was not written by Verdi at all. In 1850 a tenor's high C, even if it were written, would have been sung in falsetto rather than the open, ringing chest voice we heard from Dennis O'Neill. A slight beat in his off stage 'Troubador' song just served to remind us that opera is a marathon. Like many other vocal athletes, he takes a little warming up. And the high-C of 'Di quella pira' is just one of many feats required of Manrico. He was still holding centre stage both vocally and dramatically until killed in full view at the opera's shocking conclusion some hours later.

Nicole Youl sang a dignified Leonora. Her voice becomes a little harsh on the highest notes yet she sang most of the hard options and she did both cabalettas creditably.

Michael Lewis (the husband of Ms Youl in real life) seems more vocally relaxed this year as Count de Luna. His 'Il balen del suo sorriso' was glorious.

Bernadette Cullen was also in excellent voice, playing a drear yet intense gypsy mother. I could not fathom why she was dressed in army fatigues when apprehended. The up-dating to Civil War period seemed to fit in very well with the story (unlike the 'Barber of Barcelona' last week!!).

Long time Welsh National Opera conductor Sir Richard Armstrong seemed a little out of water at times. On two occasions, one with the full chorus, the timing between pit and stage went wildly out.

We are fortunate indeed to have an opera company in this antipodal backwater. I find it odd that we have two major season openings and the Musical Director, Richard Hickox is nowhere to be seen. Perhaps he had a better offer.

Comments by Andrew Byrne ..