Ascher Fisch Leads a Riveting Il trovatore

United StatesUnited States Verdi, Il trovatore: Soloists, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Ascher Fisch (conductor), Civic Opera House, Chicago, IL. 15.11.2014 (JLZ)

Trovatore (c) Michael Brosilo
Trovatore (c) Michael Brosilo

Manrico: Yonghoon Lee
Leonora: Amber Wagner
Azucena: Stephanie Blythe
Count di Luna: Quinn Kelsey
Ferrando: Andrea Silvestrelli

Conductor: Asher Fisch
Original Director: Sir David McVicar
Revival Director and Choreographer: Leah Hausman
Set Designer: Charles Edwards
Costume Designer: Brigitte Reiffenstuel
Lighting Designer: Jennifer Tipton
Chorus Master: Michael Black

If revenge is a dish best served cold, Verdi’s Il trovatore (1853) depicts the complications when vengeance involves hot-blooded emotions, and Lyric Opera of Chicago’s current production succeeds in its emotional pitch. Sir David McVicar’s sets offer ample space for stunning tableaus that evoke the aintings of the nineteenth-century artist Francisco Goya, thus transporting Verdi’s opera from its medieval setting in the fifteenth century to the early nineteenth century, around the time the opera was conceived. (The opera is based on the popular 1836 play El trovador by the Spanish dramatist Antonio Garcia Gutiérrez.) The darker side of Goya’s efforts is a fine match with the libretto, especially the kinds of scenes the artist used for his so-called “Black Paintings.”

At the core of the opera is the need for four virtuoso soloists who can execute its musical range, and Lyric chose an estimable, vivid cast. Amber Wagner is a powerful Leonora, with clear ringing tone showing her character’s resilience. Her opening aria, the cavatina “Tacea la notte placida,” was particularly expressive, especially her fine shaping of the concluding phrase. The cabaletta (“Di tale amore”) showed the requisite resolve, as Leonora commits herself to loving Manrico. Likewise, Andrea Silvestrelli gave a distinctive performance as Ferrando, clearly articulated and opulently sung, and a crucial role, since he first recounts the tale at the core of the drama (“Abbietta zingara”), which is told by various characters until it is finally resolved. Quinn Kelsey gave a vibrant portrayal of the Count di Luna, with his resonant baritone appropriate for Verdi’s style. Kelsey’s second-act aria, “Il balen de suo sorriso,” was virtuosic, showing both his polished technique, burnished sound, fine diction and tone.

As Manrico, Korean-born tenor Yonghoon Lee gave an impassioned performance, notably in the second act, where his duet with Azucena (Stephanie Blythe, in “Mal reggendo”) sat nicely between her solos. Blythe deftly mediated the emotional distance between the intense remembrance of her mother and Count di Luna (“Stride la vampa!”) and her determination for vengeance at the end of Act II (“Perigliarti ancor languente”), where she varied the repeated phrase “Tu la spremi dal mio cor!” to good effect. Blythe was also effective at the end of the third act, when Count di Luna’s men capture Azucena and she curses him directly (“Deh! Rallentate, a barbari”), even if the blocking seemed weak—the ensemble could have used a more dramatic exit.

In the first scene of Act IV, Manrico’s cavatina “Ah! Sì ben mio”) led seamlessly to the rousing cabaletta “Di quella pira.” But Lee’s sustained volume could have benefited from restraint on the repeated phrases, to build more effectively toward the conclusion. That aside, the final act was memorable for Leonora’s scena as she laments Manrico’s capture and imminent execution. The pacing allowed the famous choral “Miserere” to offset Leonora’s resolve to end her life (“Tu vedrai che amore in terra”). Kelsey and Wagner made an intense pair: Kelsey’s performance reflected the unrequited love implicit in the libretto, while Wagner showed Leonora’s strength in controlling her own fate.

Lyric’s chorus and orchestra gave a powerful reading of the famous “Anvil Chorus” at the beginning of the second act, with larger than life results. The choral forces were equally effective when the count’s men interrupt the religious scene to abduct Leonora. The orchestra was just as vivid, with Asher Fisch giving fine direction to the ensemble. In addition to the rich string sound that this opera requires, the brass were particularly effective. Details emerged clearly, such as the figure in the scene at the soldier’s camp in Act III (“Squilli, echeggi”) and also at the end of the opera, in the music that accompanies Leonora’s arrival.

James L. Zychowicz

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