by Dwight Casimere
Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera
Metropolitan Opera’s current remounting of Giuseppe Verdi’s Il Trovatore digs deeply beyond the beautiful singing and lush orchestrations to reveal the opera’s dense, emotional heart. Staged brilliantly by director David McVicar, who set the action during the Peninsular War in Spain from 1808-1814 when violent protests erupted in Madrid against the French when Napoleon installed his brother to the Spanish throne and incited a bloody uprising.
The inspiration for the sets by Charles Edwards and costumes by Brigette Reiffenstuel were inspired by the artist Francisco Goya’s graphic depictions of the bloody conflict in a series of etchings, “The Disasters of War” and the painting “The Third of May, 1808.” The show curtain for Il Trovatore is a detail from Goya’s 1821 painting “Pilgrimage to San Isidro,”
in which random faces reflect the anguish and suffering of war.
Stage Director Paula Williams and Choreographer Leah Hausman do an exceptional job of creating a sensation of movement throughout this highly charged production.
An earlier announcement that Ms. Racette was suffering from a cold, asking the audience’s indulgence, proved entirely unnecessary as she sang brilliantly throughout the evening with silvery top notes and sustained, spine-tingling crescendos.
From the opening notes of the orchestra, conducted by Marco Armiliato, a veteran of more than 200 Met performances, the sense of tragedy and foreboding in Verdi’s taut score, is evident.
As the curtain opens, Spain is in the throes of Civil War. The commander of the Royalist troops, Count di Luna, sung forcefully by Serbian baritone Zeljko Lucic, is obsessed with Leonora, sung with inspired passion by American soprano Patricia Racette in her house debut. She, of course, is infatuated with thoughts of a young, rebel troubadour, Manrico, sung by the fiery Argentinean tenor Marcelo Alvarez in an electrifying performance. The count is determined to capture him. The two later duel, in a match choreographed with surprising realism.
The action quickly moves to the Gypsy camp outside Madrid, where Manrico’s mother, the gypsy Azucena, American mezzo-soprano Marianne Cornetti, in a show-stealing portrayal of both vocal and emotional power, nurses him back to health. She is haunted by the memory of the violent death of her mother, who was burned at the stake as a witch. Azucena exacts revenge by murdering a child whom she thought was the count’s infant son. It turns out that the child she threw into the burning pyre may actually have been her own, leading Manrico to doubt his own identity.
Count di Luna is seeking Azucena because of her subversive activities. At the same time, he is also seeking to eventually win Leonora at the expense of Manrico’s life and thus the tragic events of Il Trovatore are set in motion. Things come to a head when Di Luna’s henchman, Ferrando, Alexander Tsymbalyuk, in his Met debut, captures Azucena.
Audiences worldwide will have an opportunity to witness this thrilling production live from the stage of the Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center. The April 30 matinee will be transmitted to more than 1,500 movie theatres in more than 40 countries around the world, including Cinemark Seven Bridges in Woodridge, Illinois as part of the Met’s expanding Live in HD Series. For tickets and information visit www.metopera.org.