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In Review > International

Medea (6/17/12), Il Trovatore (6/16/12)

VALENCIA
Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia

In Review Valencia Medea hdl 912
Marital woes: Urmana and Skorojodov as Medea and Giasone in Valencia
Courtesy of Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía
In Review Trovatore lg 912
Electrifying: Semenchuk as Azucena
© Tato Baeza 2012

This year, in tune with the economic shortages in Spain, Zubin Mehta, the president of the Palau de les Arts in Valencia’s summer Festival of the Mediterranean, has presented an economical three-opera cycle around the hardly uplifting combination of fire and poison, with one heavy-duty set of metal constructions for two of the operas, Il Trovatore and Cherubini’s Medea, and the third, Tristan und Isolde, in a concert version. 

The Valencia opera may have lost its starry regular-season principal conductor, Lorin Maazel, but Mehta, the huge asset it has retained, seems to be working overtime with operas, concerts, tours and interviews.

Poison is present only tangentially in Tristan und Isolde, the concert of which — with Jay Hunter Morris and Jennifer Wilson as the lovers — I was unable to attend. The two staged operas I did see, however, had fire and poison aplenty. And — as if the embattled opera world needed even more sensationalism — there’s a tabloid element uniting Il Trovatore and Medea. At the core of both plots there is a mother driven by the passion of vengeance to kill her own progeny.  

This was Mehta’s first Medea (seen June 17), and it showed: the orchestral splendor of this vibrant musical body was not so polished as in Il Trovatore, or in other operas the Indian conductor has presented here over the years. Mehta said in a press conference that he had not done a Medea before for lack of a protagonist of adequate stature. In Valencia this season he surely found one: Violeta Urmana’s voice came through as an amazing blend of power and delicacy, and her stage presence was mesmerizing. She paced the stage like a wounded animal and passed from fury to mellowness to cunning as she deceived her enemies into helping her with her plans for vengeance. The other top performer in the Medea cast was Spanish mezzo María José Montiel as Neris, Medea’s servant, who is graced with the most beautiful aria in the score. Montiel has become an intense, top-quality singer in recent years. 

Russian tenor Sergei Skorojodov sang the ungrateful role of Medea’s feeble husband with firm, virile tone. The strongest confrontations for the heroine were with Giasone’s future father-in-law, Creonte. Rock-solid bass Dmitry Beloselsky stood his ground, even though his character eventually succumbed to the sorceress’s power. Creonte’s daughter and Giasone’s bride, Glauce, was served by esteemed local soprano Ofelia Sala with uncharacteristic modesty of means. Her usually crystal-clear top notes sounded muffled and clouded, as if she were singing with a handkerchief on her mouth, but her portrayal of the doomed innocent was still moving.

Medea was a decent musical affair, but it was Trovatore (seen June 16) that showed all the power and consistency of Mehta’s Valencia orchestra. Electrifying Russian mezzo Ekaterina Semenchuk stole the show as Azucena. In the scenes where others sang and her character was present but silent, she remained riveting. Her creamy voice delivered theatrical truth and musical excellence in equal proportions. Jorge de León, a young true Verdi tenor whom Spanish audiences have heard growing before our ears, has reached a most convincing maturity. His Manrico was impeccable; he never lost his concentration and vocal ping.

Maria Agresta was a very good Leonora, with fine legato and breath control, offering a worthy performance of a generally passive character. Sebastian Catana’s di Luna offered impressive volume and solid technique, but he looked and sounded like an old-school stand-and-deliver performer. He seemed to be singing in his own recital, rather than playing a role in a drama. Liang Li’s Ferrando was sung with conviction and a potent, beautiful bass. 

In part to save funds in these hard times, stage director Gerardo Vera, the director of the Spanish National Dramatic Centre for the last seven years, was called in to devise productions, sets, lights and video for both operas with the same creative team. The director and designers worked on the two projects simultaneously. The sets were a collection of grim metal structures that closed like solid curtains and opened to video projections of menacing oceans or skies. They also included long staircases and rusty industrial boxes to portray two different but comparably oppressive spaces. 

The characters in both operas moved with logical and elegant precision. The best theatrical moment came at the very end of Il Trovatore, when — in a surprising yet consistent move — di Luna, dressed as a mid-twentieth-century thug, shot Manrico himself. He received Azucena’s curse with the pistol still smoking in his hand as the curtain fell. spacer

ROBERTO HERRSCHER

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