David McVicar's crowd pleasing Trovatore returns with a cast of up and coming stars which include Gwyn Hughes-Jones, Carmen Giannattasio and Alexey Markov
For years the Met had suffered from terrible productions of Il Trovatore from Fabrizio Melano and Grahm Vick. They were unable to tell the story that has become known for its complicated plot and its complex characters. In 2009, 6 years after the last Trovatore had been shown, the Met unvealed a new production by David McVicar and quickly became a critic and audience darling. The production has only missed one season and has been easily cast. Set in the Spanish Civil War, McVicar's sets uses a rotating turntable to easily move the action forward. The backdrops draw inspiration from “The Disasters of War,” Goya’s series of etchings and give the production a consistent and harrowing look. Having seen the production twice I was absolutely convinced the first time by its direction, and its imagery. As critics stated I believed the Trovatore "curse was broken." However the second time I was bored as the sets looked like drab and ultimately failed to provide any new insight. I don't know if it was because the cast was nothing special or because the production is ultimately a one shot deal. However what I do know is no matter how good a production is, the cast is ultimately what matters when it comes to this opera.
critics were not enthusiastic about him. They stated that he had many rough edges and his voice was "monolithic" and at times "vulgar". They also stated that he lacked refinement in some of the delicate areas. Still some critics stated that he was effective if not the standout and that he provided energy to the famous "Di Quella Pira." While he may not be my cup of tea, some will find him appealing but not great.
Gywn Hughes-Jones returns to the Met after a long absence. He last appeared in 2005 as Ismaele in Nabucco, the role in which he debuted in 2001. Hughes-Jones has since went on to triumph in many roles including Manrico which he sang last year in the Welsh National Opera where he provided a refreshing take on Manrico. Critics raved stating that he was in "impressive form, a big-hearted performance from the Corelli ‘can belto’ school of singing which brought a frisson of excitement to the evening." Critic also stated that he was "hugely enjoyable." The only problem was his acting which they said was "rudimentary." However they said that he reacted well with his cast mates. With a triumph under his belt, Jones is sure to make an impressive comeback.
Patricia Racette reprises the role f Leonora. Racette who made her debut in the title role of La Boheme in 1995, is an artist who brings raw emotion to all her roles making for some very captivating nights. Having seen her in Tosca, Madama Butterfly and Il Trittico, Racette brought an intensity that not many are able to bring and made for some of the best performances I have ever seen of these operas. However a few years ago she sang the role of Leonora to mixed reception. I for one was mixed about this role and how it suited her voice. Racette's voice is large and expressive but can sometimes be coarse and lack the smooth quality necessary for Verdi. Her coloratura runs are also questionable as they can feel very smudged. Sometimes Racette had some moments of greatness like her Missere and sometimes I wondered why she picked this role like in the trio in the first act and her cabalettas. Nevertheless I don't think it suited her voice well enough. Even critics suggested that Ms. Racette is probably better suited to roles in which there is less expectation for lustrous vocal beauty. While that run was her role debut, it is hard to say whether she will be more secure. What I do know is that in Racette you won't find the Verdian soprano people are used to.
Dolora Zajick returns to her signature role, Azucena. Zajick bowed at the Met in this particular role in 1988 and was immediately recorded for DVD release. 24 years later Zajick reprises the role which has brought most success and recognition. Now in her sixties Zajick still commands the stage with her immense voice which has one of the best techniques of any dramatic mezzo and with her flawless musicality. When she first premiered this production in 2009 as Azucena she was called a "force of nature", "an intelligent singer," and "effective." However time has passed and even though Zajick still possesses the same gifts critics noted in 2011 that Zajick sounded tired and was ultimately disappointing in the role. However they noted that she was still "chillingly formidable". If Zajick rests up, there is no doubt that she will bring another incredible Azucena to her career.
Critics called her singing a masterpiece. Some even stated that had Verdi lived today he would have approved of her characterization which brought ruthlessness and desperation. However they did note that her high notes can some times feel a bit forced and constrained. Nevertheless this did not affect her performance. If she sings the way she sang at San Francisco, it looks like Met audiences will have a successor to Zajick and a Verdian singer to look forward to.
Faust preview, Markov made his Met debut in the role of Prince Andrei in War and Peace in 2007. He immediately became a success and a Met favorite singing a variety of repertoire including operas in his native Russian and in Italian. Critics were ecstatic by his promise describing his voice as burnished and honeyed. Critics raved stating that he was compelling, heartbreaking and satisfying. Additionally some even remarked that his voice and style were similar to that of Dimitri Hvorostovsky. Having already sung Verdi all over the world and with a solid technique, Markov is sure to get raves for his interpretation as Luna and will easily return in many more Verdi roles.
Franco Vassallo adds a second Verdi role to his Met repertoire. Vassallo made his debut in 2005 in the role of the Barber in Il Barbiere di Siviglia and immediately became a household name that would return throughout the following seasons. However after having seen his performance, his turn in the role was neither distinctive nor impressive. He was more of a rehash and sang the role as if it was a routine. His subsequent performances proved to be the same. From his Puritani to his Attila, Vassallo showed no refreshing qualities. However last year when he sang Il Trovatore critics raved about his vocal qualities and his dramatic strength. However they still complained about his lack of mezza voce and his inability to phrase. I would like to see Vassallo succeed in this role as he did in Venice as we are in desperate need of more than one great Verdi Baritone.
Daniele Callegari returns to the Met podium for the first time since his debut in 2008 in La Gioconda. Throughout his career Callegari has conducted in the leading opera houses including La Scala, Berlin, The Liceu, and La Monnaie. His vast discography has included La Traviata, La Giuoconda and Il Trovatore. When he made his Met debut Callegari was made no special impression and instead reminded audiences of the faults that Ponchielli's score may have. While I have never heard him conduct, I suspect he may be another conductor who overindulges and may not provide new insight to certain works. Nevertheless Callegari may have better luck the second time around.
It's hard to pick out the best recordings of Il Trovatore as there are plenty but these are some of my favorites. The first one I believe is the esccential Trovatore with Domingo Price, Milnes and Cossotto. I believe it is the best in the canon of recordings with every singer at the tops of their game. The next is the Callas recording which also features Di Stefano in best form and demonstrates that lyric singers are best in the role of Manrico. Callas gives her emotion and her technical perfection to the role of Leonora making it one of the definitive interpretations of the role. The next is the DVD of Domingo and Cossotto who are led by Karajan creating a riveting interpretation. However it is also a shame that the production is boring and lacks any new insight to the work and the work is chopped up. Pavarotti's beautiful; interpretation does not far any better as Eva Marton lacks the vocal prowess for Lenora and Milnes is at the end of his career. Nevertheless Pavarotti, Zajick and Levine are so captivating and drive the action forward making the opera worth watching. The last maybe a surprise to many as I named it the worst HD back in 2011but this only on the list because it has the full Met production. I don't want to bash on it but Alvarez is not suitable for the role as he can not phrase and runs out of breath quickly. Radvanovsky has some beautiful moments but its a shame that they are marred by her bad intonation and her bad acting. Hvorostovsky is sings beautifully during his aria but lacks the heft for the role. Finally Zajick is better in her first Met DVD as she is fresher and technically more secure. Armiliato is consistent but hes not Levine. I would only recommend it if you want to see the production otherwise watch Pavarotti's version