Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Connective tissue

Il Trovatore - Metropolitan Opera, 10/7/2015
Lee, Netrebko, Zajick, Bilyy, Kocán / Armiliato

Funny thing about this revival: the big questions posed in the season preview turned out well... but the show was still hit and miss, probably not as satisfying on the whole as the relatively star-free casts of 2012-13.

Leonora is actually a very good role for Anna Netrebko, who has long been too unrefined for bel canto but nevertheless can't quite fill real lung-buster roles like Lady Macbeth. Here the technical demands seem both liberating (there's none of the self-indulgent stage business with which she occupied herself in her lighter-role days) and quite manageable, and the scale of her sound is just right. Dolora Zajick, after a rough debut run in the new production, is singing within her limitations and after decades of owning the part still interpretively delivers a near-authoritative Azucena. Meanwhile the remaining voices are strong all around, including Ukrainian baritone Vitaliy Bilyy, who has a more conventionally-shaped Verdi baritone sound than Hvorostovsky. But whether because of the conductor, the revival director, the specifics of the cast, or all of the above, the whole lacks the charging-ahead quality that has been the defining appeal and connective matter of this McVicar production since its 2009 premiere.

My guess is that it's not revival stage director Paula Williams, who's previously handled successful Trovatores including fall 2012 and winter 2013. More likely responsible is Marco Armiliato, whose always competent, singer-friendly regularity does not mesh well with the particular aesthetic of this production, and in fact threatens to turn Trovatore from the most essential of operas back into the jolly/silly collection of famous tunes that has for a long time been its caricature in the public mind. Most hurt - or, to put it another way, most needing a more urgent hand in the pit - are bass Stefan Kocan, known more for his long eloquence than the narrative impetus that is Ferrando's part here, and Anna Netrebko, who (like Renee Fleming) doesn't maintain a strong underlying sense of time in her slower singing. And so the great, driving, confrontational ensembles of the first acts never quite caught fire.

What did work unqualifiedly was Act III, where tenor Yonghoon Lee nailed the back-to-back benchmarks for the Verdian spinto: slow, eloquent, and melancholy in "Ah, si ben mio", and driving with (militarily unwise) rage in "Di quella pira" - where he skipped the repeat, but with such grand high notes (he sang both syllables of "all'armi") that it would be foolish to complain.

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Absolutely no axe-grinding, please.