Saturday 16 July 2016

Il Trovatore at the Royal, or, An Understandable Fall from Fashion

Note: This is a review of the performance on Monday 11th July 2016.

A number of commentators have remarked on the fact that Verdi's Il Trovatore occupies an uncertain place in the repertory these days. Given a narrative as creaky as this, and the evident difficulty of locating four world class voices, I am not at all surprised. Despite some positive elements this new Royal Opera production does not make a compelling case for the work.

The production is another indifferent, though not unrevivable, effort for the company. David Bosch's debut contains a number of things I've seen too often in recent times. He makes ineffective use of projections – I was particularly baffled as to why plants starting growing in one of Leonora's early arias, or why we needed a cartoonish drawing of Leonora later when it was perfectly obvious whom the Count was singing about. There is little, until the last scene, in the way of set apart from barbed wire, crosses and a vague attempt at trees such that the overall sense of place is feeble. The excessive tank suggests some kind of modern battlefield but beyond that there is a lack of clarity as to exactly where or when we are supposed to be – and some costuming (especially of Leonora) doesn't fit well with the implied modernity.

The most serious problem, however, is Bosch's at times risible personnel management. The ill concealed tank just prior to the attempted abduction of Leonora is one example – one can only assume that the nuns of this convent use veils of an excessive thickness. The wholly unconvincing prison in the second half is another. The worst though occurs when Leonora has to mistake Luna for Manrico in Part One. The surtitles inform us that she does this because it is dark – unfortunately, the stage is brightly lit, the two men are very easily distinguishable and her movement does nothing to mitigate either of these points. In the final scene Bosch abruptly goes for broke – a bizarre and superfluous funeral pyre arises at the back of the stage, followed at the conclusion by a large wire heart which bursts into flames.

In an ideal world the musical performances would provide the searing drama lacking in the production. Here the company, in the cast I heard, managed to field two singers of the requisite strength: Francisco Meli's Manrico and Ekaterina Semenchuk's Azucena. Both of them have the vocal weight and a sense of drama missing elsewhere and whenever they're on stage, either separately or together, the dramatic and musical temperature blessedly rises. Unfortunately neither Lianna Haroutounian's Leonora nor Zeljko Lucic's Luna can match them. Haroutounian improves in the second half, but ultimately the voice was not to my ears either big or flexible enough for the demands of the role, though family members who saw the show a few days later from the Stalls (I was as usual in the Amphitheatre) were far more impressed. Lucic's performance is serviceable but cannot compete with Meli's for drama or that Verdian heroic quality. The minor roles are solidly taken.

The final problem with Monday's performance was Gianandrea Noseda. Apparently he has a reputation in this repertoire. On the strength of this performance I can't really see why. The first half I found plodding – the Anvil Chorus for example which, to my mind should be dramatic and exciting was a bit of a damp squib – though it didn't help that Bosch parks the chorus on stage and doesn't give them anything much to do during it. After the interval things improved a bit (this is definitely a glass of wine evening) but the whole needs to drive forward with a much greater sense of pace and inexorability than Noseda showed himself capable of. Chorus and Orchestra do their best given these limitations.

This show returns rapidly for a second run in December under Richard Farnes – having heard him a couple of times at Opera North I suspect in dramatic terms this may well be an improvement, but I haven't any desire to see this undistinguished production again that quickly. It will be interesting to see if it sells.

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