Ekaterina Semenchuk’s Valencian Azucena

SpainSpain Giuseppe Verdi, Il Trovatore: Soloists, Valencian Community Orchestra, Cor de la Generalitat Valenciana, Zubin Mehta (conductor), Palau de Les Arts, Valencia, 16.6.2012 (JMI)

New production

Direction: Gerardo Vera
Sets: Gerardo Vera
Costumes: Alejandro Andújar
Lighting: Juan Gómez-Cornejo


Manrico: Jorge de León
Leonora: Maria Agresta
Azucena: Ekaterina Semenchuk
Conte de Luna: Sebastian Catana
Ferrando: Liang Li
Ines: Ilona Mataradze
Ruiz: Mario Cerdá

Picture courtesy Palau de Les Arts

The Mediterranean Festival offered only one staged opera this year (Medea) and two in concert (Il Trovatore and Tristan und Isolde). For this Valencia performance the Verdi, Trovatore has been upgraded to a staged version, using partially the sets of Cherubini’s Medea and the same production team. Since the change brought zero additional dramatic action to the music, that probably was done for naught.

Gerardo Vera’s stage work is confusing and uninteresting. Amid the slightly modified Medea set, the costumes bring the action to modern times, perhaps the Spanish Civil War, but without being specific about it. Most damning is the lack of stage direction: The singers were left to their fate and to their stage skills and the direction for the choir exhausted itself in traffic-policing.

Zubin Mehta traditionally led the orchestra at the Festival, which  guarantees a level of quality, even brilliance. Mr. Mehta supported the singers, offered an energetic reading full of Verdian feeling, got excellent sound from his outstanding orchestra, and otherwise stayed in the background. I have only praise words for the excellent choir in Valencia.

Jorge de Leon as Manrico showed that he remains completely faithful to his conception of the characters: Much strength in singing and few nuances. He has a large voice, bright, and perfectly projected, very homogenous throughout the range. With this instrument it is not surprising that he took down the house after an excellent “Di quella pira”. The rest wasn’t so spectacular. His interpretation of the aria “Ah, si ben mio” was long of decibels, short on intention and nuances, and flat to boot. If he paid more attention to expressive singing and less to loudness, he could be an exquisite tenor… the vocal material certainly is some of the best around.

Maria Agresta’s Leonora left a most favorable impression. This young soprano has an attractive voice, not too large, and she knows how to use her instrument. She was at her best in the true belcanto aria “D’amor sull’ali rosee”. Her stage skills are not very good yet, but this was one of her first Leonoras in a still short career. I think she could be great in belcanto, and better than in Vedi roles… at least at this stage. Many of the great Donizetti and Bellini heroines could find an ideal interpreter in her.

Much like Micaela and Liu, Azucena can triumph and snatch the glory from the titular principals. This was no exception: Russian mezzo soprano Ekaterina Semenchuk sang and acted a very good gypsy. She has a powerful and attractive voice, able to cope with the difficulties at both ends of the range. On stage she proved that she is a most accomplished Azucena and she doesn’t need anyone to direct her to be convincing.

Not a convincing was Sebastian Catana as a monotonous and boring Conte de Luna. Chinese bass Liang Li, improving from past occasions, was a sonorous Ferrando.

 José Mª Irurzun