Il Trovatore has more in common with Lars
von Trier’s dire film Melancholia (see my last post) than with the luminous
film Monsieur Lazhar. There is
not a whole lot of understatement in the Opéra de Montréal production, and the
opera itself is powerfully dramatic, if not overpoweringly so.
Count di Luna is madly in love with the
beautiful Leonora, but she loves the troubadour Manrico and has no time at all
for the powerful Count. Manrico was raised by the gypsy Azucena, although it
turns out he is wrong in thinking of her as his mother. This is, in fact, a
confusing story. If, however, you have managed
to survive the improbabilities of other operatic narratives (the last one that
tested my patience was Dvorak’s watery Rusalka, last fall), you are less likely
to pick a fight with the plot of the incandescent Trovatore. With its
spectacular on-stage fire, in which Azuceta and her mother perish at the stake,
and its obsession with revenge, there’s not an awful lot of redemption in Il
So why did I not only not walk out of Il
Trovatora (as I did on Lars von Trier’s Melancholia), but find it exhilarating?
Is the difference between the two the
difference between stage and screen? In part, it is. The wide screen and
surround-sound have an overwhelming impact in the cinema, surpassing the effect
of all but the most riveting on-stage performances. I have been known to walk
out of a number of films, starting with Ken Russell’s The Devils in 1971, and I
have never yet walked out of a life production.
Is it the physical distance from the stage
that makes the difference? Physical distance helps, for sure, and cinema has
become expert at reducing that difference.
Is it the world-historical distance
dividing contemporary Montreal from 16th century Spain? Not sure. The
Devils is set in 17th century France; I have walked out on films set
elsewhere and in the past just as readily as I have walked out of films set in
worlds closer to me.
Verdi’s music is beautiful, and the choral scenes compelling. With the chorus standing in for us, ordinary people standing on
the sidelines watching and judging the terrible on-stage drama, there is
something so fun about the Gypsy chorus scene that it makes up
for much of the surrounding darkness. And that is true even if the staging badly
needs work. Why it is that a dozen or more chorus members
spend so much of their time just standing in one place looking as though they
really don’t know what to do with themselves?
Another quibble is that the production is
unexciting visually, with the exception of the
lurid fire. Hard to blame the production, though, for the fact that
Manrico is dead and the flames are licking at Azucena before she lets on that
the Count and Manrico were brothers.
I’ve reached the point where I will
forgive an opera almost anything if the music is beautiful enough and there
are one or two spectacular singers. Which is very much the case here, not only
with Soprano Hiromi Omura’s Leonora, who has the entire audience in the palm of
her hand, but also with the darker figure of Azucena, sung by the thrilling
Italian mezzo Laura Brioli.
The men are good, but not up to that level,
for a good voice is not on its own quite enough. Where the two women have a
natural physical grace, Canadian baritone Gregory
Dahl is just plain wooden as the supposedly obsessed Count di Luna. Korean tenor Dongwin Shin does a respectable job as
Manrico, but his presence is overshadowed both by Omura and Brioli.
there’s Giuseppi Verdi. What a star.