Notwithstanding the limitations imposed by the COVID-19 emergency, the Macerata Opera Festival management courageously chose to maintain their summer season, even it meant reducing it from three to two operas (sacrificing Tosca in the process) and presenting in scenic form only Mozart’s Don Giovanni, while for Verdi’s Il Trovatore a concertante performance was preferred.
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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 (The Troubadour) by Antonio García Gutiérrez. First performance at the Teatro Apollo, Rome, on 19th January 1853. Attended performance: 25 July, Macerata Opera Festival 2020.
Il Conte di Luna: Massimo Cavalletti
Leonora: Roberta Mantegna
Azucena: Veronica Simeoni
Manrico: Luciano Ganci
Ferrando: Davide Giangregorio
Ines: Fiammetta Tofoni
Ruiz – A herald: Didier Pieri
An old gipsy man: Massimiliano Mandozzi
Conductor: Vincenzo Milletarì
Light designer: Ludovico Gobbi
Photography: Ernesto Scarponi
Orchestra Filarmonica Marchigiana
Coro Lirico Marchigiano “Vincenzo Bellini”
Martino Faggiani, choirmaster
Massimo Fiocchi Malaspina, second choirmaster
Concertante performances have their drawbacks in terms of “show”, of course, but in our opinion also have their own merits, and their own charm. The main merit is that you are not distracted by sceneries, colours, movements often scarcely related to the story and the score, and you can concentrate fully on the singers. If you are lucky and the singers are good, you are probably in for a wonderful opera evening. And so we were – all in all – on Saturday night at the Arena Sferisterio, since the singers were mostly very good, even though they got scarcely any help, if at all, from the young conductor.
Vincenzo Milletarì, aged thirty and a product of Riccardo Muti’s Academy, was (as far as we could ascertain… we apologize if some performances might have escaped our research) making his debut in the title. He chose the “edizione critica”, which honestly does not seem to differ substantially from the traditional one. We must recognize that he actually underlined some of the more “lyrical”, intimate moments of the score, but unfortunately we soon discovered he had some very personal, or maybe not so clear, ideas about tempos. Some moments of the opera, for instance the finales of the First Act (the terzetto “Di geloso amor sprezzato”) and of the Fourth (“Ha quest’infame” etc.) were conducted at breakneck speed, creating not negligible difficulties for the singers.
On the other hand, he respected the traditional, and much coveted by both the public and tenors, high notes of the “pira”. And rightly so, we must add, since he had in his cast a tenor who can deliver shining “heroic” high notes with apparent easiness.
Two good high notes do not really mean much in themselves, but Luciano Ganci actually did a lot more. The Met Opera Guild magazine, “Opera News”, must have had good reason to write that “Luciano Ganci is arguably Italy’s finest Verdi tenor” following his performance of Stiffelio in Parma. So, if besides ringing high Cs and Bs you like a beautiful voice (a critic even wrote “a brazenly beautiful voice”!) technically well mastered, a fine, intelligent phrasing and an impeccable diction, Luciano Ganci could easy become your favourite Manrico.
We can say no less about his Leonora, Roberta Mantegna. The young soprano’s fine voice might not be the one the average opera goer imagines or expects from a Leonora, especially if his/her idea of Leonora is the voice of a soprano such as Leontyne Price, or even Antonietta Stella. Roberta Mantegna is more a “lirico” (in our opinion, her voice is well suited, for instance, to Luisa Miller, a role she will soon tackle), but a sweeter, less aggressive but beautifully sung Leonora can be equally, or maybe more suited to Verdi’s music.
About the Azucena, Veronica Simeoni (substituting for Sonia Ganassi who cancelled due to family mourning), we have mixed feelings. Her singing is good, the voice well projected, her phrasing various and effective. It’s just that in our opinion she is not a true mezzo. Her voice is what, once upon a time, would have been defined “un soprano corto”, i.e. a singer who, lacking the extreme high notes, sang as a mezzo, but with too light a voice. Actually, Simeoni has a rather clear voice, becoming increasingly clear when it ascends to the higher notes. A voice far from feeble, well projected, but lacking the “weight”, the “body” of a true mezzo. We remember her in Favorita, in Don Carlo, even in Carmen, and each time we had the impression we were listening to a soprano. A soprano who obviously sang all the mezzo notes, but all the same with a soprano voice. Her Azucena was no different. She sung well, even acted with moving feeling, in the extremely limited way allowed by the concert performance, but without the voice for the dramatic role.
The real drawback of the whole evening was the disappointing performance of baritone Massimo Cavalletti as Count di Luna. If you were to envision a Verdi baritone as an elegant, refined singer gifted with a “grand seigneur” way of presenting his role, you would imagine someone completely different from the one we heard on Saturday night. Besides having more or less the elegance suited to compare Alfio, he displayed major technical faults, often singing out of pitch and uttering harsh sounds devoid of any soft vibration (the ones in Italian called “suoni fissi”), especially in the high notes.
Regarding the comprimarios – Ferrando, Ines, Ruiz, and Old Gipsy – on the whole they were performed satisfactorily by good, professional singers. The musicians of their Orchestra Filarmonica Marchigiana, distanced on the huge Sferisterio stage, did their best to follow the conductor’s sometimes frantic tempos and untimely pauses, and the Coro Lirico Marchigiano “Vincenzo Bellini”, always wonderfully prepared by Maestro Martino Faggiani, did well as usual.