NAPLES: Il Trovatore
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Il Trovatore

NAPLES
Teatro San Carlo
12/14/14

Il Trovatore has been staged regularly at the Teatro San Carlo since 1853 and many legendary exponents of the four principal roles have been heard here. There were no living legends in the cast assembled on December 14 — the third night of a new season-opening production of Verdi’s opera — but the voices were healthily produced and well assorted.  

The most detailed and stirring interpretation was offered by the Russian mezzo Ekaterina Semenchuk as Azucena. Her eye-movements and gestures were so dramatically focused that she automatically became the center-point of every scene in which she appeared. Her blending of words and tone — if one excepts the occasional over-darkened vowel — was consistently effective and she had plenty of volume and a wide range at her disposal, effortlessly encompassing the top C in Act II. The Armenian soprano Lianna Haroutounian (Leonora) also has an excellent upper register and she added an electrifying C when taking the poison in Act IV. As an actress, Haroutounian appeared somewhat sedate in the opening acts (the acoustically dispersive set did not help), but phrased with increasing urgency towards the end of the evening. And although she lacked the floated pianissimo for “D’amor sull’ali rosee,” she sustained the cantabile line with admirable firmness and proved impressively agile in the Act IV cabaletta (one verse) and duet with the Count. 

Marco Berti’s Manrico — handsomely costumed — was also at his best in the second half of the opera. Over-hurried in his Act I serenade and rather muscle-bound in his first duet with Azucena, he surprised listeners with a gently sculpted messa di voce before his Act III aria, generated genuine excitement in both verses of the cabaletta (sung with notable precision in the original key) and displayed a fine legato and considerable dynamic variety in the last act. The biggest voice on stage may well have been the Spanish baritone Juan Jesús Rodríguez as Di Luna, and although his singing and acting lacked aristocratic finish, they made an appreciably forthright impression in much of the music. Carlo Cigni proved a solid Ferrando (though he tends to aspirate embellishments) and Enrico Cossutta a musically sensitive Ruiz.

This was Nicola Luisotti’s final production as music director at the San Carlo, though he promises to return for guest appearances. He confirmed his worth as an accompanist and the orchestral playing was much more refined than it used to be in this house (the chorus too was in fine form), but the Tuscan conductor’s tempos were excessively rapid at times (Manrico’s adagio became an andante con moto) and as a result the music did not always breathe as naturally as it should. The Act I trio sounded particularly mechanical in its rhythm — in spite of a traditional rallentando to accommodate a high note — and the Act II finale was similarly superficial, requiring a slower pace for the conflicting emotions to register properly. 

Michał Znaniecki’s production — with sets by Luigi Scoglio, costumes by Giusi Giustino and video projections by Michal Rovner — proved most revealing in the last act, where the tower imprisoning Manrico and Azucena was seen first from the outside (during the duet for Leonora and the Count) and then from within. The most striking single image was that of Azucena at the end of the opera, apparently under the illusion that she once again had her long-dead baby enfolded in her arms.

The action was set (as far as one could gather) in nineteenth century Spain: a decision that neither undermined nor added new meanings to the dramaturgy of Verdi and his librettist, Neapolitan Salvadore Cammarano. The added dances (even during Ferrando’s narrative) and video projections betrayed a lack of understanding of how totally the solo singers dominate the stage in an opera as vocally potent as this one: when a voice truly takes flight, the surroundings become a mere blur at best. spacer 

STEPHEN HASTINGS

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