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Giuseppe VERDI (1813–1901)
Il trovatore
Libretto by Salvatore Cammarano and Leone Emanuele Bardare
Anna Netrebko (soprano) – Leonora
Luca Salsi (baritone) – Count di Luna
Yusif Eyvazov (tenor) – Manrico
Dolora Zajick (mezzo-soprano) – Azucena
Riccardo Fassi (bass) – Ferrando
Elisabetta Zizzo (soprano) – Ines
Carlo Bosi (tenor) – Ruiz
Dario Giorgelč (bass) – An Old Gypsy
Antonello Ceron (tenor) – A Messenger
Arena di Verona Choir; Arena di Verona Ballet
Arena di Verona Orchestra/Pier Giorgio Morandi
Franco Zeffirelli – stage director and set designer
Raimonda Gaetani – costume designer
Lucia Real – choreographer (after El Camborio)
rec. live July, 2019 at the Arena di Verona, Italy
Picture format: 1080i 16:9; Sound format: PCM stereo, DTS-HD MA 5.1
Subtitles: Italian (original language), German, English, French, Spanish, Korean, Japanese
Reviewed in stereo
C MAJOR Blu-ray 754704 [157 mins]

I must mention right off that Franco Zeffirelli, the great stage director of opera as well as of films and television, died on June 15, 2019, a little more than two weeks before this Il trovatore, his production, took place at the Arena di Verona summer festival. One can only say that in an era of stage directors who reinterpret operas and often impart a new meaning to what the composer and librettist intended, it is always a pleasure to welcome a Franco Zeffirelli production. As you would expect it is quite traditional and very lavish, capturing the spirit of this early 19th century tale and its rather fantastic happenings. The story of Il Trovatore is quite familiar to opera lovers, and so I won't offer a synopsis of its events though I will say the libretto is generally viewed as flawed, as Verdi mavens are aware. However, for all its improbable happenings and tendency to have too much action occur between scenes rather than in the scenes, it's still a very effective story.

Not surprisingly, the sets provided by Zeffirelli spare little expense in their grandiose appearance. They show three huge towers at the back of the stage, each resembling a castle turret. The central one opens up in the Act II convent scene to reveal an ornate chapel where Leonora is intending to take the veil. Leading away from the three towers toward the front of the stage are groupings of rounded stone steps that descend to three different levels. Most of the action takes place on the two bottom levels.

Costuming in this production is also lavish, quite authentic and appropriate for the period, even if a bit garish. There is much pageantry on stage and, not surprisingly, horses are used: at the end of Act II Leonora and Manrico escape on them. It's a spectacular moment as both Netrebko and Eyvazov ride off still singing, drawing enthusiastic applause and cheers from the audience. The horses return in the opening of Act III, after which two colorfully choreographed ballet numbers are performed splendidly by dancers from the Arena di Verona Ballet. The whole production in just about every respect is excellent, in the end making this a quite memorable experience. If you like this sort of spectacle, you'll be glued to your screen throughout this opera.

Matching all this wonderment from Zeffirelli is the outstanding performance of Anna Netrebko as Leonora. True, her voice has darkened a bit over the years, losing some of its youthful sheen. But in most ways, I think it's actually better: the beauty of her tone is still there, her voice carries well over the full orchestra and she hits all the notes comfortably and confidently, leaving little doubt about her technical powers. Her acting skills are also impressive throughout, and she carries a stage presence that simply draws your attention to her. From the beginning she is brilliant: try her passionate and rather lush account of Tacea la notte placida or her sprightly rendition of Di tale amor che dirsi, both from the First Act. Her D'amor sull'alli rosee from the final Act, along with her duets with Manrico are simply stunning. In addition, the cadenzas she sings are always tasteful and beautifully performed.

Yusif Eyvazov as Manrico has a somewhat unusual, perhaps slightly nasal sound, and in the past has candidly acknowledged not being fully pleased with the color of his voice. He has thus worked constantly over recent years to improve his voice and believes he has done so. I don't doubt him, but since this is my first exposure to his singing, I cannot make a conclusive judgment. That said, I can report he certainly turns in fine work here and I find his voice quite attractive. Most listeners, in fact, will favor his rather distinctive tone, as well as his strong dramatic skills. Try, for example, Ah sė, ben mio and Di quella pira, both from the Third Act and both clearly showing him in excellent form. Also the duets with Netrebko referenced above are impressively sung by Eyvazov as well.

Luca Salsi was quite brilliant in his Simon Boccanegra portrayal from the 2019 Salzburg Festival, which I recently reviewed here. He turns in another fine effort as Count di Luna, even if he doesn't quite rise to the outstanding level of Netrebko. Dolora Zajick as Azucena is also quite good, especially in the quality of her tone and her dramatic skills. That said, at times her diction is not clear. In Stride la vampa, for example, she sings with fervor and shows why she has delivered brilliant past performances in this role, but the words sometimes seem lost in a haze. In other numbers there are moments when her dynamics should be bolstered toward the mezzo-forte and forte side. Much of this may be due to the “open air” acoustics, since the sound in such events does not carry as well as in a skillfully designed opera house.

Pier Giorgio Morandi draws fine playing from the Arena di Verona Orchestra and offers a mostly vital and convincing interpretation, employing judicious tempos and finding the right instrumental balances. The chorus sings quite impressively throughout the opera as well. The camera work, picture clarity and sound reproduction are quite good, but, as suggested above, because this is an open air performance, the volume levels are slightly less potent and you might therefore want to increase the volume a bit.

As for the competition on video, there are four other performances of this opera in my collection worthy of mention: the Karajan/Vienna State Opera production from 1978 on TDK; the Carlo Rizzi-led, ROH production from 2002 on Opus Arte; the Marc Minkowski-conducted, Dmitri Tcherniakov-directed effort from 2012 on BelAir Classiques; and the Daniel Oren-led, Macerata Opera Festival production from 2016 on Dynamic. The Karajan, with Domingo as Manrico, is excellent but because of its age has inferior video and sound quality though it manages to pick up the coughs from the audience quite well; the Carlo Rizzi is also very good but is nearly two decades old and not state-of-the-art in technical features either; and the last two are convincing in their own individual way, but in the case of the Minkowski, the opera is updated to current day and reduces the number of main characters to five(!), while the Daniel Oren performance is traditional in its production but with a very dark take on the story.

This new recording on C Major can be surpassed musically by several efforts on CD and LP, but on video I haven't seen a better production than Zeffirelli's, nor have I heard a better Leonora in any format than Netrebko's. Though this Il Trovatore has some flaws then, it has these two vital assets and would be my first recommendation for those wanting video.

Robert Cummings

Previous review: Robert Farr

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