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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Il Trovatore - opera in four parts (1853)
Manrico, supposed son of Azucena – Yosif Eyvazov (tenor); Leonora, lady in waiting to Princess of Aragon - Anna Netrebko (soprano); Count di Luna, a young noble, – Luca Salsi (baritone); Azucena, an old gypsy woman – Dolora Zajick (mezzo); Ferrando, an officer in the Count di Luna’s army – Riccardo Fassi (bass); Ines, Leonora’s attendant – Elisabetta Zizzo (soprano); Ruiz, Manrico’s henchman – Carlo Bossi (tenor)
Ballet, Chorus, Orchestra of the Arena di Verona/Pier Giorgio Morandi
Stage Director and Set Designer, Franco Zeffirelli (in 2001)
Set Designers, Michele Olcese
Costume Designer, Raimondo
Directory of Stage design, Michele Olcese
Lighting Designer,
Video Director: Tiziano Mancini
rec. 2019, Arena di Verona
Sound Formats: DTS-HD MA 5.1.
Filmed in 4K ultra HD. 1080i. Aspect ratio 16:9
Booklet languages: English, German, French
Subtitles: Italian (original language), English, German, French, Spanish, Japanese, Korean
C MAJOR Blu-ray 754704 [145 mins]

Il Trovatore was premiered on January 19th 1853 nearly two years after Rigoletto, the first of the three great middle period operas Verdi presented in the space of two years and which established his reputation indelibly in the minds of opera lovers throughout Europe and beyond. It was followed a mere nine weeks later by the premiere of La Traviata, but it was not planned that way: Verdi was meticulous as to the dramaturgy and music of his creations, but in this case, he was overtaken by events. Il Trovatore was originally intended for librettist Cammarano’s hometown theatre, the San Carlo in Naples, the theatre that had given Rossini his boost to fame and staged nine of his opera seria between 1815 and 1822. However, the theatre had fallen on harder times and found Verdi’s fee too steep in their cash-strapped situation. Verdi then proposed the opera be premiered in Rome, with the caveat that 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 near contemporaneously presented Il Trovatore and La Traviata reaching the stage within six weeks of each other. Not even in his earliest staged works did the composer ever contemplate such a close coincidence of premieres. Add the diverse tinta of the two works, Il Trovatore, with its large scale, and the opera that was to follow it, La Traviata, with its focus on domestic issues, and one can only wonder at the composer’s genius. It perhaps helps us to understand the quality which was inherent in what was to follow from his pen.

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 19th January 1853. It was a resounding triumph, with the final scene being encored in its entirety. The opera spread rapidly and was even parodied with baby-swapping figures in two of Gilbert and Sullivan’s most popular works.

Located in the Italian province of Veneto, about one hundred and fifty miles north of Florence, Verona is considered by many to be the artistic capital of Italy. The Roman remains of the arena, whose walls date back to 30 AD, provide the largest open-air stage in the world for the presentation of opera, the largest in the world, seating over fifteen thousand people. The Verona Opera Festival was initiated on August 10, 1913, with eight performances of Verdi’s Aida. Since then, except during wars, the organisers have mounted an annual Festival of Opera there. and the tradition of performances has been to create a spectacle as befits the space. Productions are intent on utilising the fact that the stage is three times that of a normal indoor theatre, offering visually resplendent performances, which, under appropriate direction, can hardly be bettered. Live animals appear, as with horses in this case and elephants in Aida. In the past few decades, the arena has provided the home for some spectacular productions, several of which were staged by Franco Zeffirelli, renowned for his grandiose designs; this one dating from 2001 is reprised for this performance. Il Trovatore is the ideal drama for the large space of the Arena di Verona; its stage size allows for the external scenes to have more vitality than normal, while impressive and stately buildings facilitate others, such as Leonora’s attempt to enter a convent.

As I have noted, Verdi was set on a two-diva opera and in this performance two truly great singers, separated by a generation, take the roles. As Leonora, Anna Netrebko, making her Verona debut, sings and acts with conviction, her phrasing and line everything one could hope for. Her vocal nuance is allied to convincing acting in the various emotional situations the role demands. The second diva role of Azucena, the supposed mother of Manrico, is superbly acted and sung by American mezzo Dolora Zajick whom I first heard in the role in the late 1980s in a recording from the Metropolitan Opera, New York. Hers is a gripping realisation; she looks her stage age and brings resonant chest notes to her interpretation as well as convincing acting. The male hero, and would-be lover of Leonora, is taken by Yosif Eyvazov, the real-life husband of Anna Netrebko. Regrettably, he, unlike his wife, is ill-fitted to his role, having poor histrionic ability to depict the heroic Manrico via his acting, which lacks bodily-commitment, and vocally he is altogether too lightweight and lyrical, lacking tonal depth and range. Count Di Luna, the real brother of Manrico whom he sends to his death, is adequately taken by Luca Salsi, as it that of Ferrando sung by the bass Riccardo Fassi.

The performance under the baton of Pier Giorgio Morandi, a name new to me, is idiomatic, and attentive to the needs of his singers. He and the sound engineers are aware of the acoustic challenges of the arena, which are caught by non-visible microphones and suitably amplified without distortion. The sound on the recording has clarity and presence, but is somewhat different, especially in respect of spacing, from the usual theatre sound caught on recordings. Caruso famously stated of this opera that it merely required the four greatest singers in the world. It is regrettable that requirement is not wholly met in this casting. Visually, you will rarely see such splendour or apt staging.

Robert J Farr

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