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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Il trovatore, Drama Lirico in four parts (1852) [129.29]
Marco Caria (baritone) – Il Conte di Luna
Anna Pirozzi (soprano) – Leonora
Enkelejda Shkosa (mezzo-soprano) – Azucena
Piero Pretti (tenor) – Manrico
Alessandro Spina (bass) – Ferrando
Rosanna Lo Greco (soprano) – Ines
Augusto Celsi (tenor) – Ruiz
Alessandro Pucci – Messenger
Coro Lirico Marchigiano Vincenzo Bellini/Carlo Morganti (chorus master)
Complesso di Palcoscenico Banda 'Salvadei'
Fondazione Orchestra Regionale delle Marche/Daniel Oren (conductor)
Francisco Negrin (stage director)
Louis Désiré (set & costume designer)
Bruno Poet (light designer)
rec. live, July/August 2016, Macerata Opera Festival, Arena Sferisterio, Macerata, Italy
DYNAMIC 57769 Blu-ray [139 mins]

Events from the Macerata Opera Festival can easily pass by unnoticed. I rarely see press articles and even the renowned Opera Magazine doesn’t seem to have covered it recently. In view of this I congratulate the Genoa based Dynamic label for releasing Macerata Festival productions on DVD/Blu-ray.

Recorded in live performance at the 2016 Macerata Opera Festival, Francesco Negrin’s staging of Verdi’s Il trovatore held on evenings in July and August 2016 attracted a sizable audience to Arena Sferisterio. With its generously long 40m stage the stunning neo-classical Arena Sferisterio in the Marche region is an outdoor arena, originally conceived for a traditional handball game, gioco del bracciale, which is now an open-air theatre of 3,000 capacity used for opera productions.

Verdi’s four act opera Il trovatore (The troubadour) was written to a text by Salvadore Cammarano based on Antonio García Gutiérrez’s melodrama El trovador (1836). Written shortly after Rigoletto and introduced just months before La Traviata, the premiere of Il trovatore was given at Teatro Apollo, Rome in 1853 receiving immediate popular success which has endured. Despite a well-nigh unimaginable plot, this tempestuous tragedy has thrilling themes of love, family ties, politics, jealousy and revenge set against a country divided by civil war. Gutiérrez’s play is set in early 15th century northern Spain during the Wars of Aragon (1410-12). Containing some of Verdi’s best loved arias and choruses famously it was the great Naples born tenor Enrico Caruso who stated that the formula for a successful performance of Il trovatore is the four greatest singers in the world.

Experienced stage director Francisco Negrin has made something of a specialisation of stadium and arena events. In the absence of a directorial note from Negrin and his creative team it is tricky to work out the thinking behind his production which seems to follow the character of a traditional staging, although Louis Désiré’s costumes look a couple of hundred years later than the libretto’s original early 15th century setting. The male chorus, wearing dark blue greatcoats, are made-up to look like ghouls. Regular appearances of young boy in a dirty looking, ragged dress probably represent the youngest son of the di Luna family who it was alleged had been bewitched by a gypsy. Désiré’s set was centred around a pair of very long narrow tables, with illuminated edges, placed parallel to each other and the front of the stage, primarily serving to break up the area. I’m not sure of the significance of using scythes as weapons and in the Anvil Chorus there was not an anvil in sight just a swathe of swaying arms from the split male and female chorus.

No bright colours were worn by the dark-haired female principals; Leonora, Azucena and Ines all being robed in different styles of black dress. Of the men, the Count wears a blue/grey frockcoat with decorative gold lapel brocade over a scarlet waistcoat, Ferrando a lighter looking red frock coat also with decorative gold brocading on the lapel and Manrico wears a brown suede coat. As is usual when working with a huge stage the exceptionally long opera stage at Arena Sferisterio is kept mainly dark with the lighting designer concentrating on the central area. At several points a red-haired woman is spotlit on a platform on the back wall tied by ropes, in fear of being enveloped by bursts of flame which must be the gypsy, Azucena’s mother, accused of witchcraft and subsequently burned alive. Best of all, a line of chorus stands on a slightly elevated platform at the back of the stage with their dark silhouettes standing out to startling effect against the long back wall of the arena which lighting designer Bruno Poet has bathed in a truly spectacular orange/red light.

Indubitably, by sheer force of voice and characterization, it’s the female principals Anna Pirozzi and Enkelejda Shkosa who shine brightest in this production, raising the temperature each time they appear. Generating slews of power and passion Anna Pirozzi’s performance as the heroine Duchess Leonora, lady in waiting to the Princess, had me literally on the edge of my seat. Naples-born the dramatic coloratura soprano is an experienced Leonora, imparting great innate security to the role. Best of all Leonora’s prayer ‘D’amor sull’ali rosee’ is quite stunningly sung with Pirozzi excelling with her typically full-blooded projection developing intense emotions, amd able to soar gloriously to the high notes. Also striking is Albanian mezzo-soprano Enkelejda Shkosa’s portrayal of the gypsy Azucena whose avenging curse drives the story. Highly experienced in the role (and it shows) Shkosa is totally convincing from start to finish. Rich and firm, her voice is most attractive and although her vibrato is broad it doesn’t intrude. Suitably fiery, Azucena’s famous aria ‘Stride la vampa’ aptly demonstrates her powerful delivery and ability to generate high drama whilst remaining in control.

The central character of the nobleman Conte di Luna is capably sung by Sardinian baritone Marco Caria. I notice this opera is not listed in his past schedule on Overall, I find Caria’s voice cumbersome and rather uninteresting. For example, in the Count’s aria ‘Il balen del suo sorriso’ Caria’s portrayal doesn’t come close to matching the passion of the words. Sardinian tenor Piero Pretti makes his mark as the army officer Manrico, who doubles as a troubadour. Putting his heart and soul into the part Pretti displays his bright voice to engaging effect despite strain in his high register. Manrico’s much loved cabaletta ‘Di quella pira’, declaring how he and his men will save Azucena from death, is well sung if rather lacking in the ringing, heroic quantity the finest tenors provide. Ferrando, the Count’s officer, is taken by Italian bass Alessandro Spina who is endowed with considerable stage presence and adds enthusiasm and a touch of flamboyance to the role. Singing to a group of 8 boys (some of whom were giggling) in Ferrando’s aria ‘Di due figli vivea padre beato’ Spina is deeply expressive, if somewhat uneven in parts, and wanting in fluidity. Soprano Rosanna Lo Greco makes a young-looking Ines, Leonora’s attendant and confidante, revealing an attractive if relatively small voice.

Under Daniel Oren’s enthusiastic direction, the support from Fondazione Orchestra Regionale delle Marche does justice to Verdi’s writing. Singing winningly, the Coro Lirico Marchigiano Vincenzo Bellini has clearly been well coached by chorus master Carlo Morganti. The famous Anvil and Soldiers’ Choruses are splendidly given, with rhythm and enthusiasm, if requiring a touch more bite occasionally. With clarity and balance, the stereo and surround sound options are generally well caught from what must surely be a challenging outdoor acoustic. As I have come to expect, the video direction of Tiziano Mancini is first class, with a reasonable variety of shots ensuring the eye doesn’t tire but close ups are clearly not his forte. The booklet notes include a track listing of arias, a helpful essay titled ‘Something overall unique and original’ by Danilo Prefumo and a synopsis is also provided. I always welcome bonus footage namely interviews with soloists and the creative team but there is nothing provided here.

There are several recommendable performances of Il trovatore in the CD catalogue with my favourite from 1970 stunningly sung by Leontyne Price, Plácido Domingo, Sherrill Milnes and Fiorenza Cossotto conducted by Zubin Mehta on RCA. On DVD/Blu-ray I greatly admire David McVicar’s 2011 dramatic staging filmed live from the Metropolitan Opera under Marco Armiliato. A highly dramatic performance featuring Marcelo Álvarez, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Dolora Zajick, Sondra Radvanovsky and Stefan Kocan is on Deutsche Grammophon

On Dynamic Francisco Negrin’s staging of Il Trovatore from the Macerata Opera Festival is worthy of attention. Sung with passion and drama the contributions from Anna Pirozzi (Leonora) and Enkelejda Shkosa (Azucena) are exceptional.

Michael Cookson

Previous review (DVD): Robert Farr 

Additional production and recording details:
Angela Saroglou (assistant stage director)
Complesso di palcoscenico Banda 'Salvadei'
Video Director: Tiziano Mancini
Video Format / Aspect ratio: 1080i60 – 1 BD 50 NTSC – 16:9
Sound formats:
a) Stereo LPCM 2.0ch 48kHz/24 bit
b) DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1ch 48kHz
Subtitles: Italy (original language), England, France, Germany
Region code: 0 – All regions



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