OPERA NEWS - Il Trovatore
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In Review > North America

Il Trovatore

Cincinnati Opera

Cincinnati Opera opened its ninety-fifth season on June 18 with an affectionate backward look — a rousingly traditional performance of Il Trovatore reminiscent of operatic times past. And with a cast of this caliber, that approach was thoroughly justified.  From the opening moments — Morris Robinson’s riveting cries of “All’erta” — it was an evening of splendid Verdi singing. Robinson’s voice is rich and powerful, and he relished the details of Ferrando’s narrative, which launches the events of the opera. This Trovatore was an auspicious start to the season and a fitting reminder of the company’s long history.

Making her Cincinnati Opera debut, Julianna Di Giacomo brought a dark-hued voice of power and beauty to the music. It is a substantial instrument, yet capable of navigating the florid music skillfully (though the trill is not distinct). She molded Leonora’s more languid the phrases sensitively, and, in the final act, her exchanges with Count di Luna showed considerable fire. As the count, Stephen Powell combined menace with suavity, spinning out long phrases in an exemplary “Il balen.” He, too, had plenty of power for the large house.

Russell Thomas, first heard in Cincinnati five years ago as Verdi’s Cassio, is moving into heaver roles, and his Manrico was first rate. The voice has grown significantly, and the baritonal coloring and strong lower register were particularly effective in the final scene. The top is strong, too, though the high C at the end of “Di quella pira” was sustained only briefly. Like the others, his singing was very musical, including an honorable attempt at the trills in “Ah sì, ben mio.”  

Making her Cincinnati Opera debut — and her role debut — as Azucena, Jamie Barton had a big success. Like the rest of the principals, she had no problem filling the large auditorium with sound. Unfazed by the wide-ranging vocal lines, she displayed a strong chest register (sparingly but tellingly used) and ringing high notes. Her account of “Stride la vampa” and “Condotta ell’era in ceppi” was gripping. She should be much in demand for the part. 

As usual, secondary roles were filled with promising younger singers — Kathryn Leemhuis (Inez), Brandon Scott Russell (Ruiz), Samuel Smith (Old Gypsy) and Thomas J. Capobianco (Messenger). The chorus is important in Trovatore, and the Cincinnati Opera Chorus was uniformly excellent. Particularly noteworthy was opening scene of the third act, both the crisp accuracy of the soldiers’ chorus and the devotional fervor of the chorus of nuns. 

Cristian Măcelaru, another Cincinnati Opera debutant, conducted a vigorous performance, the rhythmic impulse reflecting the passions that drive the story forward. Nor did he slight lyrical elements, allowing the music to expand and linger at key moments. In this, he was supported by the playing of the Cincinnati Symphony, offering sensitively shaped solos.

John Conklin’s set was simple, a pair of rough walls flanking the stage with a steep mountain range projected in the background. Occasionally, that projection was subtly altered to indicate a character’s state of mind, such as the suggestion of flames during Azucena’s account of her mother’s death. Scenes could be changed rapidly by adding or removing a handful of other scenic elements, so the momentum of the drama never flagged. 

Jose Maria Condemi’s direction focused on the essential as well, keeping the actions of the principals fairly stylized, rather like the operatic acting of an earlier era. Living in a world of heightened passion, they expressed themselves accordingly. In contrast, members of the chorus interacted with each other more naturalistically in their various roles as gypsies or soldiers. —Joe Law

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