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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Il Trovatore, Opera in Four Parts (1853)
Manrico, Piero Pretti (ten); Leonora, Anna Pirozzi (sop); Count Di Luna, Marco Carla (bar); Azucena, Enkelejda Shkosa (mezzo soprano); Ferrando, Alessandro Spina (bass); Ines, Rosanna Lo Greco, (sop); Ruiz, Augusto Celsi (ten)
Coro Lirico Marchigiano V. Bellini. Marchigiana Philharmonic Orchestra/Daniel Oren
Director, Francisco Negrin. Set Designer and costume Designer Louis Désiré.
Video Director, Tiziano Mancini
Rec. Arena Sferisterio, at the Macerata Opera Festival, 31 July, 6 and 12 August 2016
Sound Formats, DTS-HD MA 5.1. PCM Stereo. Surround sound DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Filmed in HD 1080i. Aspect ratio 16:9
Booklet languages, English and Italian
Subtitles, Italian (original language) and English
DYNAMIC DVD 37769 [138 min]

Verdi had considerable troubles in respect of both the composition and staging of Il Trovatore. It was the second of his great middle period trio of 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 then proposed the opera be premiered in Rome on condition the censors there 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 why parts of Il Trovatore and La Traviata were contemporaneously composed 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 censor 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 January 19th 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 & 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 Dynamic recording label regularly bases their recordings on performances in Italy, often from the architecturally elegant smaller theatres to be found around that country. In the era of Rossini and Donizetti Italian towns and cities had more than one theatre offering opera, often on a social class basis as in Venice for example. The use of the open-air Macerata theatre for the annual Sferisterio Festival in July and August each year brings to focus a very different location, even than the use of one time Roman Arenas. The venue of the awesome arena at Macerata was built in the nineteenth century to accommodate a ball game called pallone col bracciale, an ancient Italian pastime of the day. The stage is 14.5 metres deep and 40 metres wide, with 10 metre wings each side of that. It is rather unusual shape for musical performances albeit the acoustics are reputably good. It holds an audience of over 3,000 and is a formidable venue for performers and audience alike and can be seen in the introduction.

However, along with the auditorium for the singers, the biggest challenges are the stage size for the stage director Francisco Negrin and set designer Louis Désiré. The problem being how to accommodate the big scenes involving chorus, as when in the opening Ferrando addresses his troops, and the immediately following more intimate duet between Leonora and Inez her maid and confidante. Similar problems abound in this opera as when after the chorus of the gypsies Azucena and Manrico share their memories and similarly in the prison scene. I regret that for me neither the set, comprising long trestle tables, provide a basis for overcoming the problems. Nor do the additional dumb shows add to the clarity of the narrative, particularly the young boy parading up and down like the grim reaper complete with scythe. The costumes are indeterminate time scruffy!

On the musical side, particularly the singers and chorus, matters are altogether far better even though Daniel Oren, his yarmulke very visible in the darkened pit, does sometimes tend to vary tempi more than modulation. However, he lets Verdi’s stirring vibrancy off the leash for the ‘Anvil Chorus’ although his gypsies do not strike any anvils, unusually in a staged production they are not visible. Oren paces the tenor’s vocal efforts into ‘Di quella pira’, and the infamous concluding note at the end of part three, with some aplomb. As the hero Manrico the lyric toned Piero Pretti does as well a many tenors with Verdi’s vocal demands, albeit his acting leaves something to be desired. As his implacable foe Count Di Luna, really his brother as neither realise, Marco Carla does not sound the Verdi baritone we are all waiting for in terms of vocal heft, tonal beauty or depth of characterisation. As Fernando, who Caruso missed out of the reckoning when he famously said Il Trovatore required the four greatest singers in the world, Alessandro Spina is suitably tall and sings with evenness and beauty of tone if without the ideal sonority.

The ladies of the cast provide much greater satisfaction in terms of both their acting and tonal portrayals. The most distinguished singing comes from the Albanian mezzo Enkelejda Shkosa as Azucena. Her voice and acted portrayal made the remaining few hairs on my head rise. Her command of the music and the role reminded me of seeing the formidable Fiorenza Cossotto as Azucena in the 1970s when her qualities brought the house down at Covent Garden. Here Shkosa’s vocal warmth, vibrancy and strength in ‘Stride la vampa’ and ‘Ai nostri monti’ were a delight to hear. If Anna Pirozzi as Leonora did not quite match her, she sang very well with warm tone and even legato throughout, floating some delightful high notes in both ‘Tacea la notte’ and particularly in ‘D’amor sull’ali rosee’. She came to the Macerata performances after having stood in at Covent Garden in the role the previous month after Carmen Giannastasia withdrew. She has a varied repertoire of Verdi spinto roles and I look forward to hearing her again, preferable in a more traditional theatre setting. Rosanna Lo Greco coped well as Ines.

Robert J Farr



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