Fathom Events' Met Opera's "Trovatore": Anvil Salesmen

Dimitri Hvorostovsky in the Metropolitan Opera's "Trovatore"
(photo: Met Opera)

The Metropolitan Opera's first live in HD broadcast of the season is “Il Trovatore” by Giuseppe Verdi, with Libretto by Salvadore Cammarano, based on the play by Antonio Gutierrez. In this production by David McVicar, the Met has prudently chosen to combine Acts I and II for a single first act, with a thirty minute intermission, followed by Acts III and IV, also combined, for a single second act. The relatively brisk result helps immeasurably in glossing over the more glaring absurdities of Cammarano's libretto. Supertitles almost did it in, giving away the ridiculousness of the plot (she threw the wrong baby into the fire?). But, first performed at the Met in1883, it remains one of the Met's most popular pieces, having been produced 636 more times since then, the eleventh most performed opera in the Met's history. Its original debut in Rome in1853 was some ten months after “Rigoletto” , and just a couple of months before “La Traviata”. So the opera, even with its laughable libretto, endures.

And quite a libretto it is. Spain is torn asunder by civil war. Count di Luna (baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky), commander of the Prince of Aragon's troops, is in love with Leonora (soprano Anna Netrebko), a member of the queen's court. Ferrando (bass Stefán Kocan), captain of the guard, tells the story of a gypsy woman burned at the stake years ago for bewitching the count's infant brother. The gypsy's daughter sought revenge by kidnapping the (wrong) child and throwing him into the flames. The Count has looked for that daughter ever since. Meanwhile, Leonora is being serenaded by a strange troubadour, who turns out to be Manrico, (tenor Yonghoon Lee), leader of the partisan rebels. Di Luna challenges him to a duel to the death, which occurs between acts (as much of the plot does).

Manrico won the duel but spared the Count, and Manrico's mother the gypsy Azucena (mezzo Dolora Zajick) nurses Manrico back to health, even as she laments that she had meant to kill the Count's infant son years ago but mistakenly threw her own son into the fire, perhaps the opera's most preposterous plot point. News arrives that Leonora, thinking Manrico dead, plans to enter a convent, so he rushes off to find her. Both the Count and Manrico storm their castle, and the lovers escape in the confusion (of which there is much in this libretto). The Count pursues them and captures Azucena, who is recognized by Ferrando as the gypsy who is believed to have murdered the Count's son. The Count orders her burned at the stake. Inside the castle, the lovers are about to wed when they learn of Azucena's capture, so Manrico prepares to save her. Between acts (again), Manrico is defeated and both he and his mother are condemned to death. Leonora offers herself in exchange, though she has taken poison in the meantime. She dies in Manrico's arms. The Count arrives in time to witness her death, sending Manrico to his death. Azucena cries out that at last her mother is avenged, as the Count has killed his own brother. Now, what could be simpler?

As Zajick put it in an intermission interview with Met Opera hostess Susan Graham, there's a priceless bottle of rare vintage wine in a bar somewhere which awaits the first person who can relate successfully a sensible synopsis of the plot of this opera, as yet unclaimed. Fortunately, the vocal performances effortlessly manage to distract us from nagging holes in the story, notably by Zajick herself, who first sang the role of Azucena twenty-five years ago at her Met debut, and has played it numerous times since, still strong and forceful. Netrebko's Leonora is lovely to see and hear, in her tenth Live in HD broadcast. But it's Lee's Manrico that's the surprise, as he hit every high note with perfect pitch (though his grimaces made it look painful for him, a mistake that further broadcast exposure should help him correct) . And the stalwart Hvorostovsky's Count, despite his recent battle with brain cancer, truly resonated with the audience and his fellow musicians; his courageous performance was the high point of the opera. Even those in more supporting roles, such as Ines (Maria Zifchak), a Gypsy (bass Edward Albert), a Messenger (tenor David Lowe) and Ruiz (tenor Raúl Melo) all excelled. Conducted by Marco Armiliato, with Set Design by Charles Edwards, Costume Design by Brigitte Reiffenstuel and Lighting Design by Jennifer Tipton, it was memorable on many levels. The chorus (most notably heard in the famous “Anvil Chorus”), was once again under the leadership of Chorus Master Donald Palumbo. With such famous arias as “di quelle pira” and “stride la vampa” (the latter while watching an immolation), the opera is a real favorite with today's audiences, and justly so. Now if they could only tackle that libretto.....

Encore presentation of "Trovatore" on Wednesday October 7 at 6:30pm at participating theaters

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