Thursday, November 04, 2010

Carried away

Il Trovatore -- Metropolitan Opera, 10/26/2010
Álvarez, Racette, Cornetti, Lucic, Tsymbalyuk / Armiliato

Despite personal prowess in battle (he wins a tournament to impress Leonora, and bests di Luna in their duel), Manrico -- the troubadour of the opera's title -- is a terrible military commander. Assigned between Acts II and III to hold the fort his side has captured, he is baited by di Luna into ditching his positional advantage and assaulting di Luna's defensive position, with predictably disastrous results for himself and his men.

We're not really supposed to think about this, of course: we're supposed to be carried away, as Manrico's men themselves are, by his call-to-arms outburst "Di quella pira", one of the most exciting arias (well, cabalettas) in Italian opera. Indeed, Manrico and di Luna embody a classic Romantic duality (di Luna is as hapless with love as Manrico is with calculated action) in which we, like the heroine, are supposed to choose the poet. (Other Verdi operas show variants: in Ballo, for example, both sides have our sympathy; in Don Carlo(s), there is a third intermediate figure -- Posa (Rodrigo) -- bridging the worldly, unloved Philip II and the naive, all-desired Carlo(s); etc.) If, as this schema goes, full sensibility excludes full sense and vice versa, it is the Romantic task to remind us in full inspiring color what's lost in the ever-encroaching reign of the latter. If Il Trovatore doesn't -- if we more think about Manrico's blunder than we feel his rage and excitement -- it's failed.

*     *     *

David McVicar's current Met production gets this strongly correct, but the current revival cast doesn't bring it off as well as the original. The gypsies do well enough, particularly the Manrico himself, tenor Marcelo Alvarez. Vocally solid and appealing, he is nevertheless not one to carry away an audience with sheer force of sound and rhythm. But he uncannily embodies the character depicted by Gutierrez, Cammarano and Verdi: not stupid, but guided and easily carried away by strong feelings and imaginings in the moment. His reaction to his mother telling her awful tale of death and misguided vengeance? Horror and pity for her, that she must relive (and have lived) a story like that. He is too caught up in his sympathy to realize what her having tossed the wrong baby into the fire means about him. When it begins to dawn on him at last, Azucena (well knowing his temperament) distracts him easily not just with a protestation of love but by setting him off on his own exciting story -- of his duel with di Luna. Similarly his intense and fatal rejection of Leonora in the last Act, and so on. Alvarez's coherent character makes sense of moments all-too-often presented as laughable, and his presence holds the show together. And heck, he does a credible attempt at a trill in "Ah si ben mio".

American mezzo Marianne Cornetti also catches her character admirably: her Azucena is neither monster nor mastermind, but one believably weary of being pursued and driven on by a horrific past moment. She doesn't have much variety of timbre, but she sang forcefully, well, and with real forward dramatic motion nonetheless.

The rest of the cast didn't sing poorly, but none had much of that exciting unbounded spirit that animates Verdi's night story. Zeljko Lucic finally decided to show some inner bad guy, but he still didn't much energize the ensembles and more or less shouted his way (not entirely unsuccessfully, mind you) through his big aria "Il balen". Ukrainian debutee Alexander Tsymbalyuk had a nice promising sound as Ferrando, but neither his opening ghost story nor his later bits showed the relish in story-telling that Kwangchul Youn used to kick the original production off. The other debutee was Lindemann singer Renee Tatum, who made more of an impression than most (she did have that necessary fire) as Inez.

American soprano Patricia Racette, the evening's Leonora, was announced as singing sick before the show. I was disappointed -- why not hear a healthy cover, presumably Julianna di Giacomo? (In fact, at Saturday night's performance Racette actually did cancel after two acts, leaving di Giacomo to sing the last half of the show.) She sounded sick in the first two acts -- unable to sustain breaths or quite reach high notes -- and her first slow-fast cantabile-cabaletta sequence (the enraptured and excited "Tacea di notte ... Di tale amor") went for little either musically or dramatically. But Racette has always been more about pathos than musical excitement anyway, and even if she had been healthy I suspect this and the subsequent trio-confrontation with her and the two men wouldn't have thrown the sparks seen between Radvanovsky, Hvorostovsky, and Alvarez.

The second part of the one-intermission evening (the third and fourth acts) found her in much more congenial territory. Leonora's second great sequence -- "D'amor sull'are rose", the Miserere with offstage tenor and chorus, and her subsequent cabaletta -- is largely contemplative, the infinite internal pause that eventually took over romantic opera, and Racette sang it all with renewed voice and moving emotional abandon. Flat final high note of the initial part notwithstanding, this was the high point of the night.

Marco Armiliato is a very good accompanist in the pit, but his even-keeled straightforwardness is perhaps not the best fit for pushing a balky Trovatore cast forward.

*     *     *

It's not bad, on the whole, but unless there are mass cancellations the spring edition (Radvanovsky, Zajick, Alvarez, Hvorostovsky, and Levine) should bring out much more of Verdi's irresistible force.

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Absolutely no axe-grinding, please.