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25.10.04

Reunited with Il Trovatore

Articles in the Washington Post

Neely Tucker, Denyce Graves, After the Low Notes (Washington Post, October 24).

Tim Page, 'Ill Trovatore,' Done In By the Advil Chorus (Washington Post, October 25)
Five years ago I saw the first production of Il Trovatore in many years that the Washington (not then "National") Opera staged. It was conducted by Plácido Domingo, had a fine cast, and a staging that was conservative but evocative and avoided—as much as (conservative) stagings can—clichés.

The Trovatore this year still comes in the same Stephen Lawless production, which came across as rather more impressive and imaginative than half a decade ago. Looking at it from the third tier, rather than the orchestra seating, too, helped in most scenes to get a new, better impression. Martin Pakledinaz's costumes are a bit too traditional for my taste: I believe the production would improve with a bit more of a minimalist approach to gypsy rags and soldiers' uniforms. Benoit Dugardyn's set design works, together with Mr. Lawless's grim and dark production, heavy on the symbolic side. Damocles' swords hang above pro- and antagonists, themselves crosses as are the swords sticking in the floor. In case that was too subtle, there's always a massive, 10' x 3' cross that descends from above in the third act. With the play of light, they also paint crosses of light onto the floor, shining from behind open doors in the movable walls.

The awfully popular anvil scene was mercifully transposed into sword-fight practicing, though better coordination among the participants could have made that far more impressive while the choreography in Act I made up in quality for the lack of realism in the portrayal of the characters. (Ever notice how grown men huddle with imbecilic excitement around a leading character telling a story for the umpteenth time, all while heavily nodding with their heads and affirmatively looking at each other? Yikes.)

The cast, of dubious quality on the night I saw them, included Mikhail Davidoff, who did Manrico well but had a voice that offered no real center of gravity. That Count di Luna's baritone was twice as loud, even though Wolfgang Brendel didn't put too much effort into it, wasn't helpful to his character. Brendel, despite a gorgeous and strong tone, had significant problems with intonation at times and was a bit wobbly. Nothing compared to Ferrando's mother, Azucena, sung by Denyce Graves. Even though this was a dress rehearsal, she must have been ill: otherwise, her disturbing vocal problems (higher regions garbled and wobbly like a ripped tape) are inexplicable. Towards the end I felt bad for her and wished the night just to be over so that she may get some rest. Mikhail Kazakov (Ferrando) did a fine job. "Alerta" can be more realistically alarming, though.

Heinz Fricke and his orchestra were, apart from the staging, the best offerings of the night. Even if he may not have been entirely happy with his team's efforts, their continuous development under Fricke (a much better conductor and orchestra builder than Domingo) is noticeable. Worth seeing? Yes. But not on the same level as either Andrea Chénier (Ionarts reviews) or Billy Budd (Ionarts reviews).

P.S. Concerns about Brendel's somewhat uninvolved performance that was right only with regard to the size of his voice can be put aside: he was yanked (or withdrew) from the production before opening night. His replacement, Carlos Archuleta, hasn't nearly the voice of Brendel or, for that matter, Davidoff... but perhaps he sang with more zest?

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