Not a Trovatore for the Ages

 IndiaIndia The Met: Live in HD – Verdi, Il Trovatore: Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera, New York / Marco Armiliato (conductor). Pre-recorded performance-screening, Godrej Dance Academy Theatre, National Centre for the Performing Arts, Mumbai, India. 15.10.2015. (JSM)

Ferrando: Štefan Kocán
Ines: Maria Zifchak
Leonora: Anna Netrebko
Count di Luna: Dmitri Hvorostovsky
Manrico: Yonghoon Lee
Azucena: Dolora Zajick
A Gypsy: Edward Albert
A Messenger: David Lowe
Ruiz: Raúl Melo


Director: Sir David McVicar
Set Designer: Charles Edwards
Costume Designer: Brigitte Reiffenstuel
Lighting Designer: Jennifer Tipton
Choreographer: Leah Hausman

Live in HD host: Susan Graham
Live in HD director: Gary Halvarson

The legendary tenor Enrico Caruso once said that all one needs for a great performance of Verdi’s “Il Trovatore” are the four greatest singers in the world (to which I would add a fifth, the bass). For this opera is an unabashed celebration of the art, providing its principals with many glorious set-pieces in which to strut their stuff, for which a solid vocal technique and innate musicality are both de rigeur.

In this, the opera was a step backward for Verdi, not only to the bel canto style of composition prevalent in early 19th century but going back as far as Mozart in some of its more lyrical arias. At the same time, it maintains a musical language that is unmistakably Verdian and points forward to future works in the composer’s canon.

If this performance of the work from the Met is an attempt to take Mr. Caruso at his word, the current state-of-the-art in the operatic world leaves a lot to be desired. None of the individual performances by the principal singers are what this critic would describe as “great” though each one is, in greater or lesser part, “good”.

The first voice heard is Štefan Kocán as Ferrando…and it augurs well. He sings the opening scena with commanding vocal presence and sonorous tone; but falls a little short of the music’s florid requirements. He is joined by the Met’s chorus, singing their intricate music with verve and precision. Here and elsewhere their contribution is the undeniable result of excellent training.

The next scene brings forth the person everyone is arguably waiting for: superstar Anna Netrebko as Leonora. One wishes reality would be an accurate reflection of hype…and one is disappointed. Ms Netrebko’s voice has become heavier in timbre and heftier in size; and the price is paid in fluidity and agility. The cantabile phrases of Tacea la notte placida do not soar as they should; the coloratura in the subsequent cabaletta is imprecise and lacking a proper trill. The role’s low tessitura seems to trouble her, though she is supremely confident above the stave.

Later in the performance, however, she warms into the role nicely, offering some lovely lyric singing in the marriage-scene with Manrico; and a surprisingly fluent D’amor sull’ali rosee WITH a decent trill and mellifluous legato, although the coloratura in Tu vedrai is approximately managed and uncertain in pitch. High points in her performance are undoubtedly the powerful Miserere and her impassioned duet with the Count, in both of which she (almost) makes one forget she is not a born spinto but a scaled-up lyric soprano. That vocal pedigree is most evident in her death-scene, sung with limpid tone and quite sublime.

Baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky was apparently undergoing treatment for a serious medical condition when this recording was made. He sounds tired as the Count di Luna; and does not sing “out” as often as required, wisely preferring to conserve his voice carefully. He has true Verdian style, singing his romantic ode to Leonora (Il balen del suo sorriso) as an inward, reverent utterance, with long-breathed phrasing and impeccable legato.

Azucena has been a signature role in Dolora Zajick’s long and illustrious career; and her voice is still remarkably well-preserved. The high notes ring out and the chest register is strong, if not stentorian. But there are problems in between; the all-important middle-voice has become dry and unwieldy, greatly affecting her rendition of Stride la vampa. Much of the subtlety in the following Condotta all’era in ceppi eludes the singer, though she delivers the lines describing the crying child in a mezza voce that is hair-raising. This and her soft, meditative Ai nostri monti indicate why her Azucena was one of the finest in recent memory.

Manrico, the eponymous troubadour, is sung by Yonghoon Lee who is surely not as well-known as the other principals. He is a pleasant-voiced tenor but does not possess anything near the squillo that this role demands, although the high notes are secure enough in Di quella pira. His lyric singing is praiseworthy; but the line in Ah sì ben mio stretches him to the utmost, not helped by the funereal tempo.

Which brings one to Marco Armiliato’s conducting. It is at its best in the orchestral preludes to each act, which are played with pointed zest; and the thrilling Anvil Chorus. He mostly gets out of the way, simply accompanying the singers…which is not a bad thing. However, the trio that ends Act 1 and the Finale of Act 2 lack rhythmic propulsion and bite; and ensembles are not razor-sharp in co-ordination.

Sir David McVicar’s production is apparently inspired by Goya and set in the early 19th Century, closer to Verdi’s own time. It certainly is atmospheric, conveying the plot’s tragic course and murky history effectively. The predominant colour is grey; and the image of Azucena’s mother, burnt at the stake, is always present. There is blood and violence; and also scenes of debauchery in the soldiers’ camp, all realistically done.

But the overall darkness can cause some eye-strain in viewing, even though the transmission is in High Definition. This was certainly the case at the Godrej Theatre, in Mumbai’s National Centre for the Performing Arts. The video-projection and some anomalies in the sound are being looked-at by the management in the hope of improving the audio-visual experience.

In sum, this is not an “Il Trovatore” for the ages. One has to go not too far back in the Met’s history for a proper realisation of this warhorse; to any of the performances featuring Leontyne Price and a cast of Met stalwarts (including the young Domingo and Milnes) or a little further to the electrifying 1952 recording with Milanov, Björling, Warren and Barbieri. They would have done  Caruso proud.


Jiten S. Merchant

2 thoughts on “Not a <i>Trovatore </i>for the Ages”

  1. A wonderful review by Jiten Merchant. Jiten must have ten different versions of Verdi’s “Il Trovatore” in his private collection. I hope to read more of Mr. Merchant’s reviews on your site.

    • Thank you for your comment to Seen and Heard. Indeed we look forward to more reviews from Jiten ourselves.


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