Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Il trovatore review – a feast of superb Verdi singing at The Royal Opera

21 June 2023

Despite its theatrical limitations, this rip-roaring performance of Verdi’s tale of revenge showcases a cast firing on all cylinders.

Il trovatore

Jamie Barton & Ludovic Tézier (Photo: Camilla Greenwell)

Mistaken identity, a ring containing poison, nuns, a baby burnt to a crisp before the curtain even rises – Verdi’s potboiler of revenge, driven by an omnipresent curse that hangs heavy in the air, has returned to The Royal Opera in a new staging by Adele Thomas. As operatic plots go, Il trovatore is up there with some of the most convoluted, and dare one say it, unbelievable. Keeping up with all the twists and turns is no mean feat – would it be so popular were it not for the gripping music Verdi provided? Who knows? But one thing’s for sure – when performed as well as this I didn’t really care that none of it makes much sense, as The Royal Opera has assembled a magnificent cast of fine Verdians.

There were planned changes, and some unplanned ones during the run. Jamie Barton (Azucena) had missed a couple of the earlier performances due to Covid, while Marina Rebeka (Leonora) had pulled out of some later performances due to ill health. American soprano Rachel Willis-Sørensen was due to take over from her at this performance, but stepped into the breach early. Her compatriot Gregory Kunde (Manrico) took over from Riccardo Massi as planned, and Barton was restored to full vocal health – and was sensational.

Winner of Cardiff Singer of the World ten years ago, her rise has been meteoric, and it’s not hard to see why. Her rich, darkly coloured mezzo is equally at ease in the German repertoire as it is the Italian – she was a glorious Brangaene in Munich this Easter – and here showed her mettle as she encompassed all the emotional gamuts of the role, while meeting Verdi’s considerable musical challenges head-on. Making effective use of her chest voice, she tore through ‘Stride la vampa’ – horror etched in every note and phrase, and went on to deliver a hair-raising ‘Condotta ell’era in ceppi’, thrillingly hurling out the climactic high notes with abandon. This was Verdi singing of epic proportions.

“…Verdi’s potboiler of revenge, driven by an omnipresent curse that hangs heavy in the air, has returned…”

Il trovatore

Roberto Tagliavini (Photo: Camilla Greenwell)

French baritone Ludovic Tézier has few equals in this repertoire today, and he gave an object lesson in how to sustain a Verdian line in a gloriously voiced performance as Count di Luna, with ‘Il balen’ – one of the most testing baritone arias in the Verdi canon – rightly bringing the house down. Given the youthful vigour Gregory Kunde brought to the title role, it’s hard to believe he turns 70 next year. While some of the lower notes tended to get lost in the orchestral textures, his trumpeting high notes were a thing of wonder. He phrased immaculately, and gave a rousing rendition of ‘Di quella pira’, putting many a tenor half his age to shame. It just goes to show how important it is to have a solid technique.

Rachel Willis-Sørensen used her pearly soprano to telling effect as the poor put upon Leonora, floating a succession of perfectly poised high notes in ‘Tace la notte placida’, concluding her performance with an impassioned, full-throated ‘Miserere d’un alma gia vicina’. Italian bass, Roberto Tagliavini, completed this impressive quintet of singers with his rich, resonant bass voice as Ferrando.

Antonio Pappano, conducting his first staged performances of Il trovatore, whipped the ever attentive orchestra into a frenzy, and was rewarded with plenty of high voltage playing. The Chorus was on blistering form and, as usual, sang with gusto throughout.

Inspired by the works of Hieronymus Bosch, Adele Thomas’ new staging, designed by Annemarie Woods, came across as more Monty Python. Cod-medieval costumes, a staircase filling the stage, gyrating extras – and that was about it. Still, it didn’t get in the way of the music, but dramatically it was a bit of a dog’s breakfast.

There are only a handful of performances left. If stellar Verdi singing’s your thing, you’d better grab a ticket now before it’s too late, as this run ends on 2 July.

• Details of upcoming performances can be found here.

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