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Verdi , Il trovatore : (Revival Premiere) Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of Welsh National Opera, Andrea Licata conductor, Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff, 24.2.2011 (GPu)

Conductor: Andrea Licata

Director: Peter Watson

Designer: Tim Hatley

Lighting Designer: Davy Cunningham

Chorus Master: Stephen Harris

Leonora: Katia Pellegrino

Manrico: Gwyn Hughes Jones

Azucena: Veronica Simeoni

Count di Luna: David Kempster

Ferrando: David Soar

Inez: Sian Meinir

An old gypsy: George Newton-Fitzgerald

Messenger: Simon Curtis

Ruiz: Philip Lloyd Holtam

Two quotations from George Martin's essay on 'The Essence of Il trovatore' (in his book Aspects of Verdi, 1989): "most persons, I suspect, would describe as the opera's prime characteristic its aggressive or breathless pace"; "For Verdi, Trovatore was never a singers' opera, as singers and critics often claim, but a drama". Unfortunately, Peter Watson's revived production, which originated with Scottish Opera and was first deployed by WNO in 2003, seems almost designed to militate against drama and pace. The performers consistently make passionate declarations while looking at, and addressing, the audience (or, at times, the conductor) rather than the character about who they feel so passionately; stock, all purpose operatic gesture takes the place of real acting; admittedly the long retrospective narratives of the first two acts necessarily create an on-stage 'audience' - but surely some members of that on-stage audience might sometimes have moved a little? Nor is dramatic pace and intensity aided by the seeming necessity for lengthy pauses between scenes, with the curtain down, for the changing of sets (especially when on more than one occasion the 'new' set seems to allow for little in the way of staging that could not have been effected just as well with the 'old' set).

All this is a real shame, because musically this was by no means a bad performance. All the soloists had their strengths, vocally speaking; the chorus was characteristically excellent; the orchestra responded well to Andrea Licata's conducting, which generally showed ease and assurance in the Verdian idiom, even if it too was occasionally lacking in real drive. The tenor of Gwyn Hughes Jones is more striking for power than subtlety, but there was much that was convincingly Italianate in his singing and his set pieces (notably 'Di quella pira', complete with unscored top 'C', were generally impressive; if he seemed unusually stiff in stage manner, weakest in those moments in which real dramatic interaction with the other characters was called for, that was something he shared with virtually all the cast (which suggests that the blame doesn't wholly reside with the singers). Katia Pellegrino's Leonora was vocally excellent; she sang with both delicacy and strength, her top end was often radiant and she had a lovely smoothness of sound throughout her range. Veronica Simeoni's Azucena had great forthrightness and (after a slightly difficult start with 'Stride la vampa') plenty of power; her tone was pleasingly and purposefully varied so that, vocally, this was a convincing piece of characterisation. Though suffering from bronchitis, David Kempster made a pretty good fist of the Count of Luna; he was vocally commanding, and somewhat more plausible, dramatically speaking, than most of his colleagues, endowing the Count with a plausible villainy, both troubled and troubling. David Soar was splendid in 'Di due figli vivea padre beato', holding the attention throughout, pacing and phrasing the long narrative very effectively.

There were many musical moments to relish from soloists and chorus alike. The 'Miserere' scene, with its juxtaposition of musical idioms, was well sung, played and conducted and, for once, the staging cooperated with the music, found means of embodying its meaning in three dimensions. The chorus were a joy in the anvil chorus and in 'Squilli e cheggi. But the momentum of Verdi's music, and with it the headlong melodrama of Il trovatore , were too often subverted by an excessively static production.

Glyn Pursglove

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