Verdi wrote Il Trovatore (The Troubadour) – with libretto largely written by Salvadore Cammarano – hot on the heels of Rigoletto, with its premiere in 1853 a mere two months before that of La Traviata. German director David Bösch made his UK debut with his original production at the Royal Opera House in 2016 with this revival in 2017 overseen by Julia Burbach.
The Count di Luna (Vitaliy Bilyy) loves Leonora (Lianna Haroutounian), but she loves Manrico (Gregory Kunde), the Count’s military enemy. Manrico’s mother Azucena (Anita Rachvelishvili) tells him how her mother was burnt to death for supposed witchcraft against the Count’s baby brother. Azucena intended to throw the baby onto the fire – but blinded by revenge she lost her own child to the flames.
The Count captures Manrico and Azucena. Leonora promises herself to him if he will give them their freedom, but secretly takes poison. Leonora dies in Manrico’s arms. The Count has Manrico executed. Azucena reveals that her mother is finally avenged: the Count has murdered his own brother.
It used to be said that all Il Trovatore needs is the four best singers in the world to perform it and whilst we didn’t necessarily have them here, we did have some wonderful music conducted by Richard Farnes and all four singers were on the mark with Azucena’s ‘Stride la vampa’ and Manrico’s heroic ‘Di quella pira’ superbly performed alongside the other well known piece of ‘gypsy’ music: ‘Coro di Zingari’ (the Anvil Chorus). The balance was provided equally well with the Count’s ‘Il balen del suo sorriso’ and Leonora’s prayer ‘D’amor sull’ali rosee’ among a number of thrilling ensemble pieces. A special mention to Alexander Tsymbalyuk as Ferrando who confidently takes us into the piece with his retelling of the convoluted back story which sets the scene for all that is to follow.
Farnes in turn energised the Royal Opera House Orchestra whose performance was strong throughout with some interesting subtleties explored, as well as drawing some fantastic singing from the Chorus to complement the main ensemble, in particular their moving off-stage requiem in the final act.
Patrick Bannwart’s black and white set and video designs transform the middle ages setting of the original to a modern-day war zone, all the more recognisable by the brutal actions of its participants which are distinctly medieval in their tone as the themes of jealousy, revenge, and love play out against a hauntingly beautiful, wintry landscape riven by war.
Bearing in mind this was its fourth outing in eight months – and a fourth variation on casting with only Haroutounian remaining from the original line up – this was still a powerful and moving piece with the abruptness of its ending still serving to shock in spite of all that has unfolded beforehand as darkness, fire, and blood are combined as one.
Reviewer: Mark Davoren
Reviewed: 4th October 2020
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★