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Trovatore Revisited

When you don't succeed at first...

Saturday, the 13th of November, the Washington National Opera had its last show of the problem-fraught Il Trovatore (see the first Ionarts review, from October 25). Utterly miscast with few exceptions, the "secondary" singers for the last two productions mercifully replaced Mikhail Davidoff's Manrico, Wolfgang Brendel's Count di Luna, and Denyce Graves's Azucena. There was nothing secondary about the respective replacements.

Picture by Karin CooperCarl Tanner (shown here) as Manrico had a slightly muffled quality to his singing, but what he lacked in clarity in comparison to his predecessor he made up in agility and roundness. Roberto Sevile's Count was a monumental improvement over Brendel's ill-pitched bear-voice. Nothing is as loud or booming as Brendel, but seeming to care about the role and singing in tune are worth something, too! Azucena, taken over by Elena Manistina, was a relief. While Denyce Graves has the dramatic part of the role down like few others, her singing was sadly inept. (And that's being kind.) Mme. Manistina, while not a great actress, sang the challenging role admirably with her well-sounding, stable mezzo and garnered much applause. Krassimira Stoyanova, who was still the same, had never been bad to begin with and only improved from performance to performance. Her acting, peppered with some well-applied wit, was as good as the production allowed for.

Of course you still had to deal with the staging of Stephen Lawless, and that's a matter of taste. After seeing it four times, I still retain it is a very elegant solution that works better than most attempts at staging Verdi's Troubadour. But the unbearably campy sword scene by the chorus (a woeful addition from four years ago: what were you thinking, Herr Lawless?) had still to be coped with. The idea itself is more befitting a Mel Brooks musical than an opera, but to make matters inexorably worse, the choreography was so badly executed that it became painfully comical where it was supposed to be impressive.

This may not have been the redemption of a miserable stint of Verdi's workhorse, but the improvement gave reason to hope that the casting will be done with more care in the future. Even though Washingtonians mainly go to see the opera to be there and be seen, big names that sing badly cannot over the long run sustain well-sold performances. Meanwhile we can look forward to Tchaikovsky's The Maid of Orleans and Mozart's Die Zauberflöte. (The WNO also—finally—published its next season's calendar, on which Charles or I will surely comment in the near future.)

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