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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Il Trovatore - opera in four parts (1853).
Manrico - Gaston Rivero (tenor); Leonora - Anna Netrebko (soprano); Count di Luna - Plácido Domingo (baritone); Azucena - Marina Prudenskaya (mezzo); Ferrando - Adrian Sampetrean (bass); Ines - Anna Lapkovskaja (soprano); Ruiz - Florian Hoffman (tenor)
Chorus and Orchestra of the Staatskapelle Berlin/Daniel Barenboim
Stage Director: Philipp Stölzl
Co-Director and Choreographer: Marta Kueroftschka
Set Designers: Conrad Moritz Reinhardt and Philipp Stölzl
Costume Designer: Ursula Kudrna
Lighting Designer: Olaf Freese
Video Director: Tiziano Mancini
rec. 15-22 December 2013, Staatsoper im Schiller Theater
Sound Formats: DTS-HD MA 5.1. PCM Stereo
Filmed in HD 1080i. Aspect ratio 16:9
Booklet languages: English, German, French
Subtitles: Italian (original language), English, German, French, Spanish, Chinese, Korean
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON Blu-ray 0735133 [145:00]

Verdi had considerable troubles surrounding the composition and staging of Il Trovatore. It was the second of his great middle period trio - Rigoletto, Il Trovatore and La Traviata - all premiered over a two year period from March 1851. Il Trovatore was originally intended for librettist Cammarano’s hometown theatre, the San Carlo in Naples. However, the theatre found Verdi’s fee too steep for their cash-strapped situation. The composer proposed the opera be premiered in Rome if the censors accepted Cammarano’s libretto. At that point Verdi learned, through a friend, of Cammarano’s death. The Young poet Emmanuele Bardare, who had converted Rigoletto into Clara di Perth for Naples, undertook the completion of the libretto. Verdi paid Cammarano’s widow the full fee, plus a premium, as she was poorly provided for. These delays explain the contemporaneously composed Il Trovatore and La Traviata reaching the stage within six weeks of each other.
 
The various additions to the libretto of Il Trovatore required of Bardare show Verdi was intent on a two-diva opera, with the voices concerned being of distinctly different ranges and colour. Needless to say the Rome censors quibbled about details. Their view was that a burning at the stake might be too vivid a reminder of the Inquisition. Also the words of the Miserere had to be altered, as strict Liturgical phrases were not allowed. With these relatively minor problems sorted, Il Trovatore was premiered at the Teatro Apollo, Rome, on 19 January 1853. It was a resounding triumph with the final scene being encored in its entirety. There were odd cavils about the gloomy subject and the number of deaths. The opera spread rapidly and was even parodied with baby-swapping figures in two of Gilbert and Sullivan’s most popular works. Six weeks later, in an entirely different orchestral patina and key, and vastly different requirements for the tenor and soprano, La Traviata was premiered in Venice.
 
The opera theatres of the former East Germany were where Regietheater and producer Konzept had their genesis. One of the consequences of the spread of both production genres has been the employment of opera directors from other than the lyric theatre in America and Britain among many other countries. It must have seemed something of a coming home to transfer Philipp Stölzl’s production from Vienna, where it was first seen in May 2013, to the Under den Linden in the former East Germany. Add a conductor keen to give an alternative view of the musical riches in Verdi’s improbable story and something different was bound to be the name of the game.
 
Director Philipp Stölzl has made many video clips and feature films. He is particularly well known for his work with the German rock group Rammstein and the American pop icon Madonna. He makes no attempt to link the disparate parts of Verdi’s story, but moves between the constantly shifting scenes using a very basic box-shaped set with two sides. There are few stage props. A fired rifle and cannon for the attack on Castillo being exceptions. With imaginative lighting this is one of the few effective incidents. A large part of the staging involves surrealist paintings being projected onto the walls and trap doors in the floor for entrances and exits.
 
This Berlin staging marks the role debuts of two of the most famous opera singers of the present day: Placido Domingo in the baritone role of Count di Luna, and the Russian diva Anna Netrebko as Leonora. I have heard Domingo in several of the Verdi lyric baritone roles he has chosen to undertake having left his tenor period behind. Whether as Rigoletto or Simon Boccanegra he has always convinced as an actor, even if lacking the ideal weight of baritone tone at particular climaxes. In this performance he starts in very poor voice, more tenor than baritone and dry at that (CH.7). As the scene develops (CH.8-9) and Manrico enters, I was tempted to feel that his tenor was better than that of Gaston Rivero, who had replaced the originally cast Aleksandrs Antonenko. The good news is that in the part four scene with Leonore (CHs.35-37), as she deceives Luna into believing she will be his in exchange for Manrico’s life, Domingo finds better vocal form with more baritonal hue and vocal sap to add to his acted portrayal. This, however, is too late to rescue his mediocre Il balen (CH.19). Meanwhile Gaston Rivero's husky tone, lack of vocal weight and uneven legato has been more a trial than enjoyment; he is not yet up to the spinto demands of the role.
 
Vocal strength, taste and expression were available in capacious quantities and quality from the other three principals who managed to overcome the idiosyncrasies of the staging and their costumes to give great delight to the audience and this watcher. Anna Netrebko sings wonderfully: creamy tone, excellent expression allied to create a wholly integrated performance. Add her trill in Tacea la notte in placida (CH.6) with tonal characterisation throughout part four (CH.31-41) and no wonder the audience went wild. Consider also her capacity to hold the vocal line, as Barenboim slowed the tempi and pointed the accents and her career in this, for her, newish fach is off to a flying start.
 
Marina Prudenskaya was the only singer who had been in the Vienna cast. Her beautiful, smooth, even tone, ideal legato and capacity for vocal expression brought back memories of those halcyon years when Verdi mezzos of this quality were more common. No crude chest notes, just excellent singing in both of Azucena’s arias. Matching her for vocal elegance and smoothness was Adrian Sampetrean as Ferrando. He and his retainers appear dressed as puritans of the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries on their way to pray. Top hats, smart black clothes and ruffs around their necks. The costumes are a mish-mash of indeterminate period and style. The booklet suggests an effort to return to Commedia dell'arte. With Azucena’s hair to scare the children and that of Ines like a three-tiered cake, the costumes look more like the harlequinade in a Christmas pantomime.
 
Caruso reckoned Il Trovatore required the four best singers in the world; he excluded the role of Ferrando. A mere two good ones out of that four are frankly not good enough for the demands of the music let alone the production and its many perversities.
 
Like Barenboim, Karajan in Vienna had his own view as to tempi, but an overall better feel for Verdi. His 1978 Vienna recording is now rather dated, but has the benefit of a traditional production in period costumes and great voices in all the principal roles (Arthaus DVD 107 117). On Blu-Ray, in the more recent Metropolitan Opera’s production, the cast is good and the staging sensible (DG 073 4797 GH).
 
This present performance is also available on DVD.
 
Robert J Farr