Berti, Papian, Nioradze, Lucic, Bilgili / Frizza
[posts on previous performances here and here]
Three of the original stars of this production are in London: soprano Sondra Radvanovsky and baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky teaming up once more in the ROH Trovatore, and bass Kwangchul Youn as King Heinrich in their Lohengrin (both Elijah Moshinsky productions). In fact, with tenor Marcelo Alvarez, mezzo Dolora Zajick, and conductor Gianandrea Noseda also off elsewhere, the entire cast had turned over between February's premiere and this end-of-season performance.
This change in cast brought not only new sounds but, it seemed, almost a brand new production. Or, rather, a very old production -- for most of the novel and insightful McVicarisms had already fallen out of the show, leaving the familiar and conventional Trovatore of yore. But the physical set and chorus action (for these, at least, have carried over) sits well and handsomely even absent the novel detail. David McVicar and his team did well to create the solid platform for even a traditional stand&sing.
And stand&sing was pretty much what the male leads here had in mind. It's not the worst idea, for both tenor Marco Berti and baritone Zeljko Lucic have impressive voices, representing two not-so-common categories these days: the real spinto tenor and Verdi baritone.
Berti was the more mixed success. In fact, I'm not sure it was a success at all, because he was totally defeated by "Ah si, ben mio" -- unable even to stay in tune, much less make music of the thing -- before trying to make up for it by shouting a lot at the end. "Di quella pira" (still just one verse) afterwards was good but not spectacular, with a somewhat less free tone than in previous acts and a nice but not extended high note finish. The big natural force of his voice actually did well with Manrico's offstage (in-character) singing -- in his first entrance and the Miserere -- but really did best in the exchanges and ensembles that drive the opera. One exception: Manrico's potentially heartfelt contribution to the Act II convent scene, which was here carelessly and fairly coarsely thrown away. Then again, so was most of the poetic-melancholy side of Manrico's character.
Lucic sang gorgeously, with a juicy, full, and spacious sound that is perfect for this music. But -- as with his Germont -- somebody needs to tell him that Verdi baritones take the heavy's part. Not just as bad guys, of course -- there are sympathetic threads to all the roles -- but there has to be some darker element mixed with the bel canto. His di Luna is a substantial, conventionally raised and civilized nobleman asserting legitimate rights: the obsessive quality so strong in Hvorostovsky's portrayal is quite absent, slashed hand (outside the convent) or not, as is most of the reason Leonora would loathe and fear him. (Part of the latter, of course, is that her Manrico here is neither particularly poetic nor tragic.) Sparks do not fly among the trio.
Then again, Hasmik Papian as Leonora isn't the most inspiring source of rivalry either. I suppose this all is unfair to her, because no one else out there besides Radvanovsky can dominate in this part either. (Perhaps this will change if and when Anja Harteros takes it up.) But after hearing this... In any case, Papian has pretty good flexibility and a nice clear and even voice through the middle and bottom, but the top notes are less good: they narrow instead of expand, and pitches can be iffy. More worrisome is the recessive, almost wallflower character her Leonora displays. Lacking fire in either voice or person and trimming the grandeur out of Verdi's phrases, she was in danger of being sung off the stage by her Inez (Laura Vlasak Nolen) in their first scene. Nolen was sounding more vibrantly impressive than I'd ever heard her, but this shouldn't happen. Finally, I was shocked that Papian -- having done four performances already with Frizza in the pit -- kept getting lost in the Miserere.
Mzia Nioradze inspired some unflattering comments on her earlier substitute's appearance, but she was one of the better parts of the performance here. The voice is less forceful, lacking the elemental power of her predecessors, and her body language seems young. But a prematurely wizened, struggling Azucena who isn't big enough for the deeds she has done (and is doing) makes perfect sense, more I think than the usual super-gypsy string-puller. She did well. So did Burak Bilgili as Ferrando, though he had some coordination issues in Act III. He showed a wetter, plusher voice than Youn, while -- like the rest of the cast -- missing some of his predecessor's focused storytelling drive.
Riccardo Frizza conducted well, as he did in earlier in Rigoletto. I don't think it was his fault that most of this go-round's cast didn't take the same relish in the music's headlong rhythmic momentum and long contrasting phrases as the original's. (Actually Berti did pretty well on this score.)
All complaints aside, there was much to enjoy in the sound of this Trovatore. But the distinctive space in which the opera plays -- the Spanish-flavored, story- and doom-soaked world in which all the derided twists and relationships make clear sense -- was not at all this time evoked. That's too bad, because with a poetic Manrico and an inspiring and responsive Leonora, McVicar's production did bring that out.
Not that I wouldn't like to hear Berti again, in the right piece. Maybe next time he'll get to have a shouting contest with Radvanovsky...