Met Opera/Armiliato: Il Trovatore

Date: October 30, 2010
Conductor: Marco Armiliato
Production: David McVicar
Location: The Metropolitan Opera, New York.

Verdi’s Il Trovatore, based on a 19th century play by Antonio García Gutiérrez, gives opera directors a serious headache: it seems to be a jumbled-up, incoherent drama because much of the historical background and the storyline are either buried between scenes or deep inside the libretto –how should the director unpack and elaborate this information, even as the music uninhibitedly rolls on?

David McVicar, in the MET’s newest Trovatore production, does not attempt to explain the morsels of history associated with the opera. The built set and costumes don’t readily reveal its moment in history (15th century) or its location (Spain). If anything, McVicar seems to consciously smudge these facts away from the visual delivery, as if to declare that in the dramatic art of storytelling, at least in this production, theatrics trumps the nuances of context. In other words, in McVicar’s vision, Trovatore is not merely an operatic equivalent of the foregoing play but a metaphor through which the timeless sentimentalities of love, jealousy and honor are theatrically realized. By doing so, McVicar frees the mind away from any unnecessary iconographic analysis to focus on the character relationships and, more importantly, Verdi’s immensely rich and sweeping musical lines and the theatrics associated with them.

Armiliato was a great timekeeper, only occasionally swaying aside to give singers extra room to deliver the treacherous phrasings and bel canto-like fiorituras of Trovatore. In the Anvil chorus, he was able to glue together the chorus, the orchestra and the metal-banging forgers into a coherent punch line. That said, he did not appear to be the consummate Verdian conductor, as his voicing was flat and uninteresting – and lacked serious undulating drama and the sort of mind-wrecking exclamation points for which Verdi’s music is famous.

Patricia Racette, as Leonora, sang the first two acts before becoming indisposed with tracheitis. She did not appear strained or sick at the beginning, and she had no audible breath-control issues. Her Tacea la notte, beautiful and full-voiced, painted a definitive statement of one person falling in love with another. If there was any indication that she was ill, it was that some of her top notes appeared forcibly squeezed. Her replacement, Julianna di Giacomo, emerged after intermission and plunged right into Leonora’s difficult music. Di Giacomo proved to be an agile singer with the kind of vocal athleticism on which the role depends. Her trills were impeccably crisp, while her top notes were secure and confident. In D’amor sull’ali rosee, her acting gift was in full display as she imbued the role with a sense of honor and piety just as she was about to offer herself, perhaps as opera’s most famous sacrificial lamb. Her heroic effort received the largest applauses from the audience at the curtain calls.

Marcelo Alvarez, as Manrico, had a lackluster evening – uninspiring, though with no glaring mistake. He was essentially Aldebran in that famous poster with Ben Hur on a chariot when he really should step forward and be Ben Hur — in other words, Alvarez lingered dramatically and vocally in the background when he really should be in front and take charge. Granted, he was able to hit all his notes in the pira cabaletta (albeit transposed down a semi-tone to make the execution more bearable), but otherwise didn’t carry along any emotional gravity that is so often associated with this music. Zeljko Lucic, as di Luna, had a soft-grained voice with no excessively decorative vibrato, but his legato had this matter-of-factly confidence that enabled him to navigate through the difficult Il balen passage with apparently little effort. Marianne Cornetti’s Azucena was a superb actress who knew how to place herself in the midst of the moving drama. Her voice was like an untamed lioness – plump and strong, but had the tendency of going sharp at the top notes, especially in the flashback passages of the Act II canzone.

The star of the evening was the stagehands, who managed to set up McVicar’s enormous set within the four hours between the last curtain of the matinee’s Boris Godunov, at 4:30pm, and Trovatore’s first curtain, at 8:30pm. This kind of turnaround time proves that for all the wonderful musicians who pass through the front doors of the Met, this pantheon of opera can’t be as good as it is without the enormously talented and super efficient backstage crew, for whom I have nothing but utmost respect.