Highlight of Il Trovatore: Jonas Kaufmann Honored in Munich

11/07/2013

 Verdi, Il Trovatore, Bayerische Staatsoper’s Orchestra and Chorus, Paolo Carignani (conductor), Munich’s Nationaltheater 8.7.2013 (JMI)

New Production
Direction: Olivier Py
Sets and Costumes: Pierre-André Weitz
Lighting: Bertrand Killy

Cast:
Manrico: Jonas Kaufmann
Leonora: Anja Harteros
Azucena: Elena Manistina
Conte di Luna: Alexey Markov
Ferrando: Kwanchul Youn
Inés: Golda Schultz
Ruiz: Francesco Petrozzi

 

The July Opera Festival in Munich is a must on my calendar: I consider it to be the most important in the world. I know there are other festivals with more glamour or more mystique, but none today offer so many attractions for the opera lover, in terms both of quantity and quality. This year, I moved up my trip to Munich to catch the last performance of Il Trovatore. The production, which featured Jonas Kaufmann and Anja Harteros in the cast, was one of the most important events in the operatic year. The two singers could be considered house singers of the Bayerische Staatsoper.

The performance was a success and reached an emotional peak in what one might call its coda. At the end, Nikolaus Bachler, general director of the theatre, and Dr. Wolfgang Heubisch, State Minister of Science and Culture, took the stage to pay tribute to Jonas Kaufmann. They awarded him the title of Kammersänger of Munich for his very special relationship with the theatre, and in appreciation of the fact that on 3 July Mr. Kaufmann replaced the indisposed Klaus Florian Vogt as Lohengrin in between performances of Trovatore. Kaufmann was clearly moved by the homage, and the public showed their admiration and love.

On this special occasion, the Bayerische Staatsoper offered a new production of Il Trovatore, which bears the signature of Olivier Py. His works never go unnoticed and are always controversial but, to tell the truth, I did not like the production.

Py brought the action into modern times, and he was respectful of the libretto and the music while trying to make a complicated plot intelligible. He put some new characters on stage, notably Azucena’s mother and a woman giving birth to one of the brothers. Leonora was cast as a blind woman, presumably to help explain her confusion with the two brothers in Act I. But in his eagerness to bring clarity, Py introduced an excess of action into the production. A director should be careful about movement on stage when the performers are singing arias to avoid distracting the audience, but unfortunately, Mr. Py did the opposite again and again. To this was added the almost continuous movement of a revolving stage, and the end result was rather disappointing. As is common in other Py productions, there was some gratuitous nudity, starting with Azucena’s mother.

Paolo Carignani offered a good reading of the score, supporting the singers who were always perfectly audible in the theatre. It was a remarkable performance from a conductor who knows what his role should be in this kind of opera. It is a pleasure to be in this house, where both the Bayerische Staatsorchester and the Bayerische Staatsoper Choir are excellent.

Jonas Kaufmann was Manrico, and he is the most important tenor in this role today. His voice is perfectly suited to Manrico, with a dark timbre and superb vocal technique. The aria Ah, si ben mio was excellent without abusing the piani. In the subsequent cabaletta – the more than famous Pira – he was somewhat short of breath at the end, taking the note in two parts which made it less spectacular. I dare say the pitch was down, and that the final note was a high B.

For me the best performance came from Anja Harteros as the blind Leonora. Her voice is beautiful, dark, uniform. Her D’Amor sull’ali rosee was worthy of inclusion in any anthology of Verdi interpretations. However, she seems to be less comfortable at the very top, and the cabalettas were not as brilliant as one would wish.

Elena Manistina was well-suited to Azucena. I didn’t find her particularly exciting, but she is a powerful singer. In my opinion, the casting wasn’t ideal as she looked more like Manrico’s sister than his mother.

Russian baritone Alexey Markov did not convince me as Count de Luna. His voice has an attractive color and great consistency, but his timbre is rather ingolato and his singing is quite monotonous and short of nuance.

In the part of Ferrando, Kwanchul Youn was a luxury that only the most important opera houses can afford, but he had an annoying vibrato during the first act.

The theater was sold out. The audience was warm, and during the performance the biggest ovation was for the above-mentioned aria by Leonora, D’amor sull’ali rosee. The final applause lasted 19 minutes, including four minutes of homage to Kaufmann. Undoubtedly, after being named Kammersänger, the night belonged to him, but he would never take a solo bow. He always took Anja Harteros with him, in a gesture of genuine camaraderie that few artists would evince on a similar occasion. If the theater has given him the title of Kammersänger, I give him that of Kammergentleman.

José Mª Irurzun

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