THE QUESTION IS: WHY?
And so, to the renowned (or infamous) “Night at the Museum”, alias Verdi’s Il Trovatore, as directed and staged by Alvis Hermanis (who also signs the sets), designed for the Salzburg Festival in 2014, has now arrived at La Scala, the last “heritage” of the now ex-Sovrintendente, Alexander Pareira.
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Il Trovatore by Giuseppe Verdi. Dramma in four parts. 1853. Libretto by Salvadore Cammarano, completed by Leone Emanuele Bardare, after the play El trovador by Antonio García Gutiérrez. First performance at the Teatro Apollo, Rome, on 19th January 1853.
Attended performance: 12 February, Teatro alla Scala. Opera Gazet reviewer: Marina Boagno.
Manrico, the night gard ?
A production best forgotten, we’d say. It is based on one of the most absurd “concepts” imaginable, even in these Regietheater days. The “idea” is to set Trovatore in a museum, or rather a picture gallery, where Leonora, Azucena and Ferrando work as guides, showing a number of beautiful Italian pictures to a crowd of visitors, to whom they also narrate the Verdi-Cammarano stories. But at some point (at night? maybe) they change their modern suits into costumes of some vague historic timeframe (15th century? probably), sometimes even doing so directly and haphazardly on-stage, shuffling into new costumes on top of the ones already worn. Manrico is the only one who is spared such bother, since he is always dressed in a dark red tunic, complete with a long, black, wavy wig.
In this rather confused situation, we must confess we were rather in doubt about Count de Luna’s intended job. Apparently he does not work in the museum, since he comes in at night, dressed in shirt and trousers and duly equipped with an electric torch, looking for Leonora. Then he exits, and soon reappears in a long, dark red frock. And she, who had sung her aria in a blue suit, re-enters in her possibly-XV century get-up. Perhaps needless to add that the dark red of the costumes, designed by Eva Dessecker, is the dominant colour throughout the entire staging.
Anyway, all the action takes place in this one space, furnished with a couple of sofas. Only the pictures change and are moved around. The gypsies (dressed in red, of course) camp in the museum where, afterwards, the nuns (yes, in red) welcome Leonora. In general, the cast is quite static, with little or no contact or interplay – most likely the influence of the director. They seem (and maybe are) to be left to their own devices.
In the final act, the museum is dismantled (and noisily – members of the audience visibly winced when a few pieces of the broken frames crashed onto the stage, making us wonder if it was by accident or part of the staging). As a sort of icing on the cake, for the first time in our not inconsiderable opera-going experience, we saw Manrico and the Count kneeling together at the two sides of the dying Leonora in almost a tableau vivant. Nevertheless, their shared grief obviously didn’t prevent the Count’s order: “Sia tratto al ceppo!” But, maybe to speed things up, Ferrando just grabbed Manrico and slashed his throat.
All in all, in the end we just wonder WHY? Why take a perfectly-conceived work of art and make useless changes which add nothing at all to the understanding and the enjoyment of the story, of the characters, and above all of the inseparable unity of words and music?
As for the principals, to start with, you cannot have a Trovatore without il trovatore himself, Manrico, and alas, Francesco Meli (who sings no less than four productions at La Scala this season!) is no Manrico. He was, and still could be, a fine “lirico” tenor, he could be the star in any house as Nemorino, as Alfredo and in many Donizetti operas, but he has taken a very dangerous road tackling roles like this, which his voice is not up to. He lacks the “squillo”, the heroic ring of what, once upon a time, was called the “espada” tenor. Still, he could sing the role, and maybe sing it well, provided he sang with his own natural voice rather than trying to force out notes he doesn’t have in him. If only he would hold onto his own sound and thus avoid shouting out those top notes he really cannot master (as he recently also showed in Tosca)! Then he could spare himself and his audience that utterly regrettable “Pira”, not to mention those many falsettos smuggled in for pianissimi.
Ringing high notes
Liudmyla Monastyrska is currently taking on demanding soprano roles such as Lady Macbeth, Abigaille, Manon Lescaut, (Forza) Leonora and the likes in a number of major opera houses, among which the Met, so expectations were high, but not entirely fulfilled. She does have an interesting voice, powerful, with ringing high notes, but in her first aria she sounded rather unsure, with a not-so-pleasant vibrato and sometimes an uncertain pitch. She got far better during the performance, however, delivering a very good and moving “D’amor sull’ali rosee”.
An excellent Azucena
Violeta Urmana is an excellent Azucena, maybe one of the best available nowadays. Someone commented that the voice is “usurata” (worn out), and maybe it is true that it no longer conveys the entire lustre of the golden years, but she has a great mastering of the role, and that is enough to be a powerfully dramatic Azucena, the best and most cheered in the cast.
Massimo Cavalletti as Conte di Luna is probably not yet up to the role. He gallantly tried to sing his main aria, but otherwise just acted out some “stock villain” part (which the count is not, exactly), showing now and then some technical and musical drawbacks. We had heard positive comments about his (Rossini) Figaro, but Verdi is “another pair of shoes”, especially when sung at La Scala. Gianluca Buratto was convincing as Ferrando. His voice is sometimes a bit harsh, but he conveyed the character well.
As a part of their studies at the Academia della Scala, some students were scheduled to sing second roles in this production (Caterina Piva, Ines, Taras Pryziashniuk, Ruiz, Giorgi Lomiseli, a Zingaro). We found no one of them especially impressive, but as they are just acquiring stage experience, let’s give them time to show their potential as principals.
As for Nicola Luisotti’s conducting, though perhaps not truly memorable or particularly inspiring, it nonetheless gave the audience an enjoyable, satisfying experience. There were a few odd choices of tempo – sometimes unexpectedly slow, sometimes too fast for the singers’ comfort – as in, for instance, “Deh rallentate o barbari” – but these did not really influence the positive final result. To his merit, too, he managed to avoid allowing the orchestral volume to overwhelm the singers, which can be a tendency nowadays. All in all, a very good, if not flamboyant reading. La Scala orchestra is always excellent, and special mention goes to the rightly-renowned La Scala chorus.