Sounding amazing

I saw and heard the dress rehearsal of the new Canadian Opera Company Il trovatore at the Four Seasons Centre.

While it’s understood that singers are permitted to mark, the headline tells you everything you need to know:

  • Ramon Vargas

    Tenor Ramon Vargas

    Ramón Vargas’s Manrico was beautifully sung, including a strong high C in “Di quella pira”.  If this is what he sounds like holding back(!?!), he’ll blow the roof off on opening night (Saturday).

  • Elena Manistina sang a powerful, if unsubtle Azucena, singing some of the loudest low notes I’ve heard in a long time.
  • Elza van den Heever in comparison sang a carefully modulated and subtle Leonora, including an interpolated C in the Miserere, (even while underplaying much of that scene), while jubilant in her big solos.
  • Russell Braun gave us the prettiest singing of the night, and unquestionably the best acting, even if I felt he’s wasted in a role that resembles an old-fashioned villain (NB that Azucena can get away with one-dimensional melodrama).  Braun is especially brilliant at the conclusion of the opera, for me the unexpected focus of the last moments

While I am a staunch defender of experimental staging at least in principle, I still expect the drama to work.  Trovatore used to be Verdi’s most popular opera, but in the past century has slipped behind both of the (roughly) contemporary middle-period operas that seem so much less anachronistic, namely Rigoletto and La traviataTrovatore is more melodramatic than either of the other two, which might be one of the reasons the work seems to resist modernization, an unlikely tale from a period that’s remote from our own in every sense.  I think it’s short-sighted to assume that you can make these characters resonate with a modern audience simply by putting everyone in modern dress and then pretending this is a modern story.

And then there’s the religious content, further complicating things for any prospective director.  As I look at the changing fortunes of our Troubador and his fall from grace, I can’t decide which aspect is most responsible.  Does a modern audience resist melodrama, or is it no longer as open to the religious imagery?  Under the circumstances, one modernizes at one’s own peril.

I am looking forward to catching a performance later in the run, eagerly anticipating another opportunity to hear the wonderful singing, hoping it all works better next time.

Il trovatore opens Sept 29th at the Four Seasons Centre, running until October 31st.

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