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Performances

Photo © Philip Newton
15 Jan 2019

Il trovatore at Seattle Opera

After a series of productions somehow skewed, perverse, and/or pallid, the first Seattle Opera production of the new year comes like a powerful gust of invigorating fresh air: a show squarely, single-mindedly focused on presenting the work of art at hand as vividly and idiomatically as possible.

Il trovatore at Seattle Opera

A review by Roger Downey

Above photo © Philip Newton

 

There are flaws, absurdities, inconsistencies: but even these feel more like virtues than faults; like so many homage to the eternal genius of Verdi and his immortal warhorse Il trovatore.

The very setting exudes the shabby, sturdy spirit of Italian Romantic opera. Commissioned from John Conklin (no one seems to remember just when) as a set for Bellini’s Norma, built in Seattle Opera’s shop, reconfigured before it first was seen in Cincinnati as a Trovatore, and repeatedly re-reconfigured since until it more resembles bricolage than organic unity.

But, when not cluttered by the shambling male chorus (think of the Penzance police force in full black body-armor), it does offer a decent platform for melodrama: ragged, foreboding Conklinesque walls, central altar-like platform, a sharply raked stage overhung by a gargantuan sanguineous moon-shape.

 

The musical side is well supported by the Seattle Opera house-band under the (rather too tasteful) baton of Carlo Montanaro, but Trovatore is nothing without the right voices, and with a few caveats, the ones we hear more than make the grade. Nora Sourouzian’s is not the ideal molten Azucena voice, but her singing is dramatically spot-on and, particularly in her duets with Manrico, deeply moving. The Manrico himself, Martin Muehle makes a physically frail figure, but that’s all to the good in emphasizing the fearful hopelessness of the character’s situation. In mid-register his voice is dry and inexpressive, but as it rises toward the half-dozen crucial notes of the role it opens into full-throated bronze; Muehle gives the end of “Di quella pira” the full Pavarotti, and the audience responds accordingly.

Michael Mayes is much closer to physical and vocal norm of a di Luna; his portrayal suffers most from Montanaro’s genteel, overly lyrical baton, but he is a consistently powerful and idiomatic singer; as the climax approaches his fury and frustration achieve the necessary dangerous near-madness.

And then there is Angela Meade. I can add nothing to the encomia that more distinguished critics have awarded her. She has only deepened as an artist since her dazzling Met debut as Elvira in Ernani. I do not believe there is another soprano living who can touch her in this repertory: her mere presence at Seattle Opera, 100 miles from her birthplace, seemed a miraculous intervention to me, and the audience on Sunday afternoon, thirsty, nay parched for this kind of taste and artistry and presence, provided her the appropriate hosannas.

I must, sadly end this rave, as always, with a boo. As always, Marion McCaw Hall casts its stifling veil over every singer performing on its stage. That the orchestra’s sound is full and detailed only emphasizes the sense of a permanent sonic scrim between stage and audience.

As the Aiden Lang era dwindles to its close, it is more than time that the Opera board confront its biggest challenge yet: the company now has the modern, unified office and tech shop it has needed since the beginning. Now it must face its ultimate challenge: the hall it performs in.

Roger Downey


Cast and production information:

Manrico:Martin Muehle; Azucena: Nora Sourouzian; il Conte di Luna: Michael Mayes; Leonora: Angela Meade; Ferrando: Adam Lau; Inez: Nerys Jones; Ruiz: John Marzano. Stage director: Dan Wallace Miller; Set design (original): John Conklin; most recent revisions: Christopher Mumaw; Costumes: Candace Frank; Lighting: Christophe Forey; Choreography: Kathryn Van Meter. Seattle Opera Chorus, John Keene, chorusmaster. Seattle Opera Orchestra, Carlo Montanaro, conductor. McCaw Hall, Seattle Center, Seattle; Sunday 13th January 2019.

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