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Verdi, Il Trovatore: Soloists, Orchestra e Coro del Maggio Musicale Florentino, Conductor: Massimo Zanetti,Teatro Comunale di Firenze 9.10.2009 (JMI)

New Production:
Director: Franco Ripa di Meana.

Sets: Edoardo Sanchi.

Costumes: Silvia Aymonino.

Lighting: Guido Levi.


Manrico: Walter Borin.

Leonora: Kristin Lewis.

Azucena: Anna Smirnova.

Conte di Luna: Juan Jesús Rodríguez.

Ferrando: Rafal Siwek.

Inés: Elena Borin.

Ruiz: Cristiano Olivieri

Franco Ripa di Meana and his team continued the Verdi popular trilogy at the Teatro Comunale di Firenze, and this Trovatore proved to be little better than the Traviata of the day before. During the prelude, with the curtain down, two children appear on stage, first fighting and later embracing each other. They are, obviously, the two brothers who will become the protagonists of the drama. After this the production proper starts and it all becomes rather confusing. All of the action takes place in closed rooms, something which presents some problems in the gipsy camp scene. The action is transferred to the 19th century, although there are some strange anomalies, such as the chorus and main protagonists wearing medieval military uniforms in the war scenes. Maybe Ripa di Meana considers that wars have no resonance if they occurred after the Middle Ages.

After an attractive first scene in a large room, a set module entered from the right hand side, showing a large window and a garden, where Leonora sings. So far so good, but then the brothers have to come on stage and Manrico enters through the fireplace, as if he were Santa Claus. The scene in the convent is more figurative and is not particularly attractive.

In the first part of the opera we saw, hanging from the ceiling, a model of two castles upside down, which eventually occupied (in their upright position) the centre stage at Castellor, retreating to the back of the stage for La Pira. The scene in the Tower took place at the front of the stage with the curtain down and, finally, the prison once again became a room with furniture of the 19th century.

The production held little interest for me and was rather too confusing. The stage direction was again rather poor, which became more of a problem since the two main protagonists did not seem too confident in their roles.  Milan born Massimo Zanetti gave a dramatic reading of the score with quite lively tempi. The biggest problem was that he demanded too much volume from the orchestra at the cabalettas, which made the voices almost disappear. This was particularly obvious in the Conte di Luna’s cabaletta in Act II, and also in La Pira. It is worth mentioning that all the cabalettas were duly repeated. The orchestra gave a good performance, although the chorus had some problems that were not present in La Traviata the day before.

Manrico was played by Walter Borin in this performance, all the rest having Stuart Neill in the role. This tenor has some good qualities, but also has some problems with voice projection and is very short of expressiveness. The part is too much for his voice and he looked increasingly tired as the opera progressed. The famous Pira, which always raises expectations, was sung with a tight and short high C, which was also almost inaudible given the volume from the orchestra required by Maestro Zanetti.

Leonora was the American soprano Kristin Lewis, who rose to fame this summer in the new production of Aida in Munich, replacing Barbara Frittoli. Kristin Lewis is well suited to the demands of Leonora, with a solid and beautiful middle register ad good extension which is well supported at the lower end but with too metallic at  the top.  Her performance was therefore somewhat uneven, but quite remarkable in many ways. Alongside passages of quality, including beautiful pianissimi, at others the voice becomes less interesting and there are some slightly unpleasant top notes. She is not a great natural actress either and so it would be interesting to see her under circumstances where she has more careful direction on stage.

From the Russian mezzo soprano Anna Smirnova we once again heard a huge voice and enjoyed her excellent stage deportment. Knowing her instrument very well , she sang everything at forte and was able to project her voice above the volume of Mr. Zanetti’s orchestra. She is not a singer of whom you can ask too many nuances, and unfortunately her insistence on singing forte or fortissimo caused her an accident in the duet with Manrico at the gipsy camp, where she delivered a true scream at the end, something which was received with murmurs of disapproval. 

The Spanish baritone Juan Jesús Rodríguez was a surprising Conte di Luna. I say surprising, because the last time I saw him on stage he was not too good. After this Trovatore though it is clear that his improved vocal shape seems almost miraculous. Today his voice is the closest we have in Spain (Carlos Alvarez apart) to a true Verdi baritone, with the added bonus that he has regained  his high notes completely. This was a most pleasant surprise:  he offered an outstanding “Il balen”, that received the first cheers of the evening. If he keeps his voice in this condition he must surely have an important career ahead of him now.  Rafal Siwek was a sonorous Ferrando, who sang his aria in the first act very well indeed. This bass is very promising.

There was a full theatre with  many  young people in the audience. Everyone was  very warm in its reception of the production, with Kristin Lewis making the biggest hit. Also well received were Juan Jesús Rodríguez and Massimo Zanetti. Walter Borin was given some booing mixed with polite applause.

José M Irurzun

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