Saturday, September 30

Il Trovatore – Royal Opera House

Verdi wrote Il Trovatore hot on the heels of Rigoletto, with its premiere at Covent Garden in 1853 a mere two months before that of La Traviata, but of the three it is the more conventional opera, although Director Adele Thomas’ production has steered clear of the traditional, opting instead for a more modern interpretation whilst remaining rooted in its original medieval setting and themes of jealousy, revenge, and love.

The Count di Luna (Ludovic Tézier) loves Leonora (Rachel Willis-Sørensen), but she loves Manrico (Riccardo Massi), the Count’s military enemy. Manrico’s mother Azucena (Jamie Barton) tells him how her mother was burnt to death for supposed witchcraft against the Count’s baby brother, with the subsequent unravelling story reflecting differing perspectives with only Azucena knowing the truth. When the count finally captures Manrico and Azucena, Leonora promises herself to him if he will give them their freedom. Can there be a happy ending for all involved or is Azucena’s mother finally to be avenged?

With Verdi considered one of the greatest composers, it used to be said that all Il Trovatore needs is the four best singers in the world to perform it. Well, that will always be subjective but tonight we certainly had four great singers with Barton’s ‘Stride la vampa’ and Massi’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 Tezier’s ‘Il balen del suo sorriso’ and Willis-Sørensen’s prayer ‘D’amor sull’ali rosee’ among a number of thrilling ensemble pieces. A special mention too for Willis-Sørensen, a last-minute stand-in for Marina Rebeka who had sadly tested positive for Covid, who truly got into her part with an emotional and powerful performance.

Concluding his penultimate season on a high, Maestro Antonio Pappan fervently whipped up the orchestra to match the medieval madness unfolding on the stage, with set designer Annemarie Woods introducing a Hieronymus Bosch-inspired staging that in combination with the Royal Opera Chorus offered a more sympathetic approach to the carnage and cruelty, saving its coup de grace until the very end.

Much was made pre-performance of the 15th century Spanish setting that sat betwixt the medieval and Renaissance periods, but the blank, black background and a set of wide steps didn’t really do it for me and at times it felt the cast were left a little high and stranded. In keeping with the mood of the piece, there were similar noises beforehand about superstition, sacrifice, and dark secrets, and whilst the musical accompaniment echoed these throughout, the emptiness of the performance space really needed better use of light and dark and shadow to resonate more strongly with the on-stage action, which only really came together in the final scene.

Where it did echo well was with the chorus and some great choreography from Emma Woods that was mired in magic and mayhem, and which in itself was further orchestrated by the character of Ferrando with a superb performance from Roberto Tagliavini, who confidently takes us into the piece with his interpretation of the convoluted back story, offers a menacing presence throughout, and whose powerful concluding act, in contrast to earlier, held nothing back with his sinister and scary snarl.

This production was screened worldwide as part of ROH Live. Further details of this and upcoming productions is available at

Reviewer: Mark Davoren

Reviewed: 13th June 2023

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.