This was the third production for the Sydney winter season after Madama Butterfly and La Traviata (which I see later). It was a homecoming for many of us with cruise ships again gracing Sydney Harbour and for our delectation, a full moon rising about 7pm over the harbour giving us back the magic atmosphere denied for so long due to Covid. The moon has special relevance in this opera, too.
It has been said that Il Trovatore requires four of the best singers in the world … and we had four capable principals, even if the tenor seemed very slightly off colour for two brief moments in the first half. He also lacks modulation of his powerful delivery, occasionally going soft for a few bars then returning to forte voce seemingly at random. In some ways opera is like a tight-rope walk and we are all the cliff-top spectators! The fifth voice of David Parkin needs commendation as Ferrando who starts the action in fine basso form.
As Leonora, American soprano Leah Crocetto certainly had all the notes and acted creditably despite being given some very unflattering costumes. Our Azucena was Elena Gabouri who had both the lows and the highs in abundance. Korean tenor Yonghoon Lee has thrilled audiences around the world’s great opera houses and he succeeded again as Manrico for his Sydney audience. Belarusian baritone Maxim Aniskin played the evil Count di Luna with aplomb. Like Scarpia in Tosca it is hard to like the man. His Il balen aria was magnificent.
This production was yet another in the series using mobile pixilated screens with an infinite range of coloured panoramae. The genre started with The Ring in New York over ten years ago when the biggest screen was the size and shape of a child’s see-saw. Now we have screens which are a couple of metres across and the height of the proscenium. The video flexibility is so vast that no director can leave them still for very long. In my view the scenery should largely remain unchanged during one aria, a chorus or an overture, so as not to distract from the vocal drama. If we don’t understand the Italian we can follow the story from English titles … and stories of a burned baby hardly need the reinforcement of foetal skeletal images all over the stage.
The opera chorus and orchestra under Maestro Battistoni performed superlatively, even though the ‘anvil chorus’ had no anvils … or even ‘cat like treads’ for that matter. The singing was superlative. Other boxes to tick include Ah si ben mio, Di quella pira, Miserere, Stride la vampa plus the shocking final scene with unexpected throat slashing.
‘Trovatore’ or troubadour has a specific historical meaning being poets, musicians, dancers and philosophers of a bygone era in the west Pyrenees region and adjacent areas. Being less serious about the art we were presented with an entire circus whose connection with the actual Troubadour was hardly important. Clowns, acrobats, weidos, tympani, etc paraded on stage rather than the usual band of gypsy bandits. Even the word ‘gypsy’ is now politically incorrect and fairly so considering all the negative connotations. ‘Romani’, while of Indian origin, have a wide diaspora yet kept their identities both by being side-lined from mainstream society and suffering as a consequence right up to the Nazi period and beyond. For Verdi’s purposes they were an exotic community whose friction with the establishment causes so many moments of high tension for his glorious music. Our monastery where Leonora was to take her vows is now a hospital and the nuns all nurses tending sick patients who find themselves in a war zone. A bit like hospitals nowadays.
Much can be said about this production and people will either like it or hate it. I don’t much care for the extent of the constantly changing backdrops and movement of the pixilated pillars. But to hear fine voices in one of the great operas is a privilege we appreciate all the more due to its long absence during Covid. Uniquely in this production Azucena stabs the count after slashing his neck as the curtain falls. This prevents Di Luna’s immense regret after learning that he has just killed his very own brother! Hence her mother’s death at the stake is avenged and there is yet another body left on stage.
Written by Andrew Byrne ..
Some fine singing on this excerpt from the opera: