United Kingdom Verdi, Il Trovatore: Soloists, Orchestra of Scottish Opera, The Chorus of Il Trovatore / Tobias Ringborg (conductor), Edinburgh Festival Theatre, 21.5.2015 (SRT)
Leonora – Claire Rutter
Manrico – Gwyn Hughes Jones
Count – Roland Wood
Azucena – Anne Mason
Ferrando – Jonathan May
Ines – Naomi Harvey
Director – Martin Lloyd-Evans
Lighting Designer – Robert B Dickson
Every time I hear or (less frequently) see Il Trovatore, it sweeps me away in a way that makes me wonder why it isn’t everybody’s favourite opera. OK, it’s not mine either, but when you witness a good performance it’s impossible not to be bowled over by the sheer power of its music, making the process of telling the story through music drama about as visceral an experience as you’re going to get.
If that sounds like rather purple prose, then it’s because tonight’s performance was one of those bowl-me-over events that, in fact, took me by surprise as to how successful it was. For a start, Scottish Opera have assembled a cast which is, frankly, better than we had any right to expect. Claire Rutter’s Leonora has an effortless, creamy purity to her voice, cresting the top of her big arias beautifully, and managing beautiful pianissimi in D’amor sull’ali rosee. Gwyn Hughes Jones has a bright, pingy voice that rattles off Manrico’s arias in a manner we rarely hear on the British stage, culminating in a tremendously exciting Di quella pira. Only in Ah, sì ben mio did sound briefly flat, attacking from beneath the note. Roland Wood sounds initially gravelly as the Count, but the top of his register glowed beautifully in Il balen, and his contribution to the ensembles was fantastically exciting. Best of all, though, was Anne Mason, electric as Azucena. She used the full breadth of her register to bring the gypsy woman to spine-tingling life, hair-raising in Condotta all’era in ceppi, yet strangely warm in Ai nostril monti. This cast has bedded in nicely during the production’s Glasgow run and now sound fantastic.
With singing like this, even the grimy, metallic production seems to come to life, its minimalism looking like stripped-back drama rather than something done on the cheap, with each set suggested through rearranging the stage furniture economically. The orchestra sounded better than I’ve heard them for a long time, too, revelling in the music’s blood-and-thunder power, and Tobias Ringborg continually brings out magnificent details hidden in the score. In short, this is a must-see. With two hits in a row, is it too much to hope that Scottish Opera have turned a corner?