Il Trovatore
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Il Trovatore

Opéra National de Paris

In Review Paris Trovatore lg 416
Great singing: Netrebko as Leonora in Paris
© Charles Duprat/Opéra National de Paris


THOSE WHO FEARED  that the new production of Verdi’s Trovatore by Àlex Ollé, of the Fura dels Baus company, would be a controversial modern reading were confounded by the first night at the Bastille on January 31. This coproduction with Amsterdam (reviewed in opera news, Nov. 2015) was boosted in Paris by a quartet of singers that almost filled Caruso’s prescription for success in this opera—the four greatest singers in the world. They were conducted by Daniele Callegari.

Ollé transposed the action to the World War I era and set the work against a series of columns that formed trenches, towers or tombs, atmospherically lit by Urs Schönebaum, creating a dark labyrinth of fire and violence with a haunting visual similarity to Berlin’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Soldiers in gas masks opened the evening, and the gloomy setting provided a backdrop for the darker hues of Verdi’s work. What the production lacked was any detailed direction of the soloists, who could have been taking part in a provincial performance in the 1950s, but this was an evening about great singing. The performance had an old-fashioned feel and elicited wild enthusiasm from the celebrity-studded audience.

The enthusiasm was largely justified, despite precipitously fast tempos from the energetic Callegari, with scrappy ensemble and only moderately accurate playing from the orchestra. Unfortunately, the gentlemen of the chorus went their own way in part one, in which bass Roberto Tagliavini’s young Ferrando sounded strong despite a few overemphatic vocal accents. But this Trovatore belonged to Anna Netrebko. The soprano’s voice has gained in weight since her last performances here; it has now taken on the ideal color for Leonora. While preserving her agility, close trills and a thrilling upper register, the voice now has a ruby port color for the darker moments. “D’amor sull’ali rosee” was some of the finest Verdi singing heard in Paris in recent years. Perhaps Netrebko sounds more Russian than Italian, but this was something she shared with Ekaterina Semenchuk’s concentrated Azucena. The Russian mezzo gave an equally strong performance with a smooth, homogeneous mezzo rising to a triumphant top C in her duet with the Manrico of Marcelo Álvarez, and her mysterious Gypsy was the most involved character of the evening. 

Álvarez failed to ignite the first-night audience in a comparable way. His lyric instrument is ill suited to the more muscular moments of the role, though his way of alternating forceful phrases with moments of soft singing has considerable appeal. The beauty of his timbre was never in doubt, but the short version of “Di quella pira” ended in a short, unheroic interpolated high note. One of the biggest ovations of the evening was reserved for Ludovic Tézier’s di Luna and his glorious “Il balen del suo sorriso,” taking two phrases in one breath and singing with a line of honed beauty, rising to an upper extension that sounded even more resonant than in the past. Tézier was helped by the only really convincing moment in Ollé’s staging: in the final pages of the opera, which are often a precipitous mess, the columns sank into the ground, di Luna shot Manrico, and, as the terrible truth was revealed, Azucena was also shot. This climax was followed by some of the longest applause the Bastille has heard recently—with just a few dissenting voices for the production team.  —Stephen J. Mudge 


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