Italy Verdi: Il Trovatore: Orchestra and Chorus Teatro allcala, Daniele Rustioni (conductor), Milan’s Teatro alla Scala,18 & 20.2.2014 (JMI).
Manrico: Marcelo Álvarez/Carlo Ventre
Leonora: Maria Agresta
Azucena: Ekaterina Semenchuk
Conte di Luna: Franco Vassallo/Simone Piazzolla
Ferrando: Kwanchul Youn/Roberto Tagliavini
Inés: Marzia Castellini
Ruiz: Massimiliano Chiarolla
Production: Teatro alla Scala
Direction: Hugo de Ana
Sets and Costumes: Hugo de Ana
Lighting: Marco Filibeck
These performances of Il Trovatore were largely disappointing, far from what one expects at La Scala. The main problems were a stage production suitable for nostalgists, a conductor who is not yet ready for a first-rate opera house and a cast that looked better on paper than in reality.
The stage production by Hugo de Ana opened the opera season at La Scala in December 2000, replacing the 1964 staging by Luchino Visconti. It’s worth noting that this is the first revival of Mr. de Ana’s production since its premiere. This is the kind of work that one expects from him: big, heavy sets formed by large pillars and walls, and a final scene with a profusion of corpses and war horrors. As usual, both sets and costumes bear his signature. The production is of little interest and seems better suited for the Arena di Verona than for a traditional opera theater.
Hugo de Ana’s productions are generally not very interesting in terms of pure stage direction, and this wasn’t an exception. Mr. de Ana simply narrates the story, placing it in the time of the libretto with a static choir and little direction of the actors. His only originality consisted of eliminating the forge in the gypsy camp.
The most disappointing element was the musical direction by young Daniele Rustioni, whom I saw for the first time on a podium. His reading was short in life and long in routine. The truth is that I was expecting more from him, and it seems to me that he is not prepared to conduct at La Scala. Most surprising was the sound of the orchestra, with clear imbalances between sections. The brass section was too heavy, to the point that sound reached the audience almost as if it were coming from a band.
Two casts were programmed, but because of flu we had largely the same cast both days.
Marcelo Álvarez is now perfectly suited to sing Manrico, a role that to me is more lyrical than what many people think. Of course, the famous “Di quella pira” is always the most expected aria from any Manrico, but in this opera Verdi is mainly a bel canto composer. It’s good to remember that before the “Pira” is the aria “Ah, si ben mio” which is an authentic piece of bel canto. Mr. Álvarez once again demonstrated his beautiful voice and excellent singing, and he sounded better than last month in Berlin in La Gioconda. However, he did not spark major enthusiasm, which may have influenced his somewhat forced “Pira” with only one verse. Incidentally, I find it unacceptable that cuts are made at La Scala in Verdi’s operas. This time cabalettas were repeated, except in the case of “Di quella pira.”
The other Manrico was Carlo Ventre, who offered a lackluster performance. His tenor shines at the top, and he was OK overall, but he should sing with more expression. The aria “Ah, si ben mio” was rather routine.
It’s about two years since Maria Agresta surprised me as Leonora in Valencia. I found her an excellent singer although she is more a lyric than a spinto soprano, and I had the same impression here. Her soprano is beautiful and very homogeneous, with large doses of musicality and excellent technique. She is now one of the best ̶ if not the best ̶ Italian sopranos, but I think her natural strength is bel canto. Leonora takes her to her limit and almost beyond with an occasionally weak lower register. This lovely soprano can have a great career if she is not spoiled too early. She is in a position to choose her repertoire and she should be very cautious. She is the perfect Micaela, Liú and Mimí, or even Amelia Grimaldi, Desdemona and Luisa Miller.
Lucrecia García cancelled the second night, having sucumbed to flu, and we again had Maria Agresta as Leonora. She was very good, particularly at D’amor sull’ali rosée.
I found Ekaterina Semenchuk not in her best shape, which also happened to me a few months ago with her Amenris. If two years ago in Valencia I thought her a great Azucena, she is not now at the same level. Her voice seems to have lost strength and is tighter at the top. She is still a good Azucena, but not the exceptional one I heard in Valencia.
Luciana D’Intino also cancelled the second night, and Ms. Semenchuk repeated her Azucena.
Franco Vassallo was moved to the first cast due to the cancellation of Leo Nucci, who decided to remove the character from his repertoire. Mr.Vassallo was an acceptable Conte di Luna, although we missed a more elegant phrasing. He also seems to have lost some of the boldness he showed at the top notes a few years ago.
Simone Piazzolla was the second Conte di Luna. This baritone has a wide voice, well-suited to the demands of the character and he is a good singer. He should improve his expression which was too static and left something to be desired.
Kwanchul Youn could be a luxury in the character of Ferrando, although his entrance on stage put the alarms on: his vibrato was far too wide. As his voice warmed up the vibrato declined, although more than once it seemed excessive.
Roberto Tagliavini was the second Ferrando. Compared with Kwanchul Youn, there was a gain in voice freshness and a loss in power.
The secondary characters were very well served, particularly Marzia Castellini as Inés and Massimiliano Chiarolla as Ruiz.
It is interesting to note that La Scala had empty seats both days.
José Mª. Irurzun