lunes, septiembre 07, 2015

Verdi´s “Il Trovatore”: mayhem with wonderful music

            The so-called "Popular Trilogy" by Giuseppe Verdi in made up of "Rigoletto" (1851), "Il Trovatore" (Jan. 1853) and "La Traviata" (Mar. 1853). Verdi between his 38th and 40th year, in full maturity.  No less than 16 operas had preceded them, including such valuable works as "Nabucco", "Ernani", "Macbeth" (first version) and "Luisa Miller". After them, eight new operas and five revisions. A total of twenty-seven originals.

            "Rigoletto" has a Renaissance setting in Italy, "La Traviata", contemporary (quite a revolution at the time) in Paris and surroundings and "Il Trovatore", the late Middle Ages in Spain. That country fascinated the composer and it was also the setting of "Ernani", "La Forza del destino" and "Don Carlo".

             Both "Il Trovatore" and "Simone Boccanegra" are based on dramas by Antonio García Gutiérrez; the dictionary Espasa-Calpe praises his "El Trovador" (1836) thus: "he created a model Romantic drama; the plot is developed with great certainty and has such natural lyric quality that  its transformation into an opera was quite logical".

            Such was the appraisal of a great dictionary as late as 1945.  I haven´t found the García Gutiérrez play, so I can only judge the Salvatore Cammarano libretto. And I don´t enjoy it.

            I subscribe Frank Walker´s strictures and praises in Grove´s Dictionary, 1954: "The complication of the plot and the unintelligibility of the libretto have become proverbial; but during actual performance no one has time to think of such things, such is the furious onward drive of the music. The text is really indefensible, ludicrous in general conception and in detail... It is a singers´ opera, exciting by the sheer physical impact of the voices, but reverting largely to forms and formulas superseded in works that preceded it".

            True enough, although a really concentrated audition of the words makes the plot intelligible; but the words are often coarse, melodrammatic excesses of described mayhem. And the only interesting character is Azucena,  vengeance incarnated.

            Less attractive in many senses than "Rigoletto" (the best of the three) and "La Traviata", "Il Trovatore" isn´t so frequently staged mainly because its sinister aspects and the casting difficulties: all over the world a nearly ideal cast is very hard to assemble. The only Colón season where this "desideratum" was obtained was in 1968, with the marvelous conjunction of Leontyne Price, Fiorenza Cossotto, Carlo Bergonzi and Piero Cappuccilli.

              To offer a passable "Trovatore" with an almost local cast is really difficult; the recent presentation by Melodramma at the Avenida gets to that level.

            The audience´s verdict: the star of the evening was Anabella Carnevali as Azucena; and I agree.  She is a true dramatic mezzo with ringing highs (albeit with excessive vibrato), a firm center and a contralto-ish low register; the timbre is right, the volume important, and she sings and moves with hot conviction. Veteran soprano Haydée Dabusti has long shown to be an authentic Verdian, one of the very few in our midst; however, this time she was uneven: splendid in florid singing (the "cabalettas"), and with distinguished phrasing, nevertheless her voice sounded forced in the high register.

            Tenor Reinaldo Samaniego isn´t local, but close: he comes from Paraguay. Unfortunately  his vocal type isn´t adequate for Manrico, a part that needs some metal and a dramatic presence; he doesn´t have those requirements, although the voice is pleasant. Baritone Enrique Gibert Mella has had a long career, always intense and enthusiastic; but although all the notes are there, he lacks the easy bel canto fluidity for the quieter moments; he is physically gaunt and perhaps that accounts for a timbre that isn´t morbid enough.

            Ferrando, De Luna´s officer, was very well sung by Cristian De Marco, who has the technique and the voice for the part. Cristina Wasylyk (Inés) and Pablo Selci (Ruiz) weren´t satisfactory.  There was reasonably decent playing by the 34-strong "ad hoc orchestra", save for some dubious clarinet sounds, under the generally acceptable conducting by Ronaldo Rosa, marred by two things: excessive silences impeding momentum; and a horrid accompaniment to Manrico´s Serenade and Miserere; was it so impossible to find a harp? Good singing from the 67-strong Choir of the Avellaneda Municipal Music Institute under Armando Garrido.

            The production by Boris was based on the "black and white" concept; as it is a nocturnal opera with tragic circumstances, it worked as a general aesthetic, and was complemented by the oranges and reds of fire. The stage props by Diego Guerrero and Hugo Cichero were minimal, and the lack of separations in various instances strained verisimilitude even further (how can you take seriously that the two rivals stand at two meters from one another and don´t see each other?).

            The costumes by María Vucetich at least tried to look medieval. The lighting by Ernesto Bechara didn´t help: at crucial points principal singers weren´t illuminated and at others where necessary darkness would have concealed the chorus there was too much light. The whiteface makeup with black streaks was more Draculesque than convincing.

            The markings of Boris were variable: sometimes they made sense and worked, but there were several moments that failed dramatically, especially in the Convent scene. However,  in the last minute he innovated interestingly: as Verdi gives just ten seconds to liquidate Manrico, it is De Luna who kills him for he is nearby; and Azucena jumps into the fire, for vengeance is accomplished and she has no other reason to live.

For Buenos Aires Herald

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