A Bold Decision
'Il Trovatore in Naples',
reviewed by GIUSEPPE PENNISI
reviewed by GIUSEPPE PENNISI
Even though Il Trovatore is one of the three Verdi operas generally referred to as the 'popular trilogy', and in the nineteenth and the first part of the twentieth centuries it was staged as often as the other two operas — Rigoletto and Traviata — it seems now to not be as often performed. I could not find any recent review in M&V, for example. In the latter part of the twentieth century, musicologists considered it a step backward from Rigoletto because of its unabashedly formalistic approach when compared with the freer form of the previous opera. More recently, it has been generally accepted that Il Trovatore has a great deal of innovation: each of its eight scenes is a complex musical number by itself based on a specific theme although within each scene there are arias, duets and trios. Also, within each scene/number, homage is paid to Donizetti's melodrama and even to Bellini's belcanto.
In casting Il Trovatore there is always a major question mark: are there nowadays the kind of voices required for the four main roles with the musical energy to stir the enthusiasm of the audience? This is, in my view, the key question to be addressed when reviewing the Trovatore that returned after ten years on 12 December 2014 to inaugurate the 2014-2015 Teatro San Carlo opera season in Naples. This review is based on the 14 December matinée performance which featured the same cast as on 12 December.
To start an opera season with Il Trovatore is a bold decision for musical, not for dramaturgical reasons. Thus, only a few words on Michal Znaniecki's staging: a single set by Luigi Scoglio, projections by Michal Rovner and costumes by Giusi Giustino. The action is moved to the 1936-39 Spanish War; it is not much of an innovation — ie in Budapest for nearly ten years the Conte di Luna and his armies wore Francisco Franco uniforms, whilst Manrico and gypsies seemed Republicans. The only exception is Leonora in elegant eighteen fifties silk dresses — a way to separate the innocent and pure character from the war between brothers not aware of their blood link. It was quite an effective staging with good acting.
The most interesting part was Nicola Luisotti's musical direction. Luisotti is about to leave Naples to devote his time and efforts almost entirely to the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House. He conducted each of the eight scenes with a terse and swift style which gave the opera almost a movie rhythm: with a single intermission, the total duration was a short two and an half hours.
The four key voices were quite good, compatible with what is available on today's market. Marco Berti was a generous Manrico, even though now he is a bit ordinary. Ekaterina Semenchuk was a high level Azucena who could reach a very low register. Juan Jesús Rodríguez was a Conte di Luna with the right timbre for a baritone-in-love. Young Armenian Lianna Haroutounian was a soprano able to move from belcanto in the second scene to the highly dramatic arias in the latter part of the performance.
Boldness was rewarded with accolades by the San Carlo audience.