So, I made a mistake. I went to see Il Trovatore Friday night, the day after seeing Il Trittico for the second time. After the incredible brilliance of Trittico, which I swear to actually post about, Trovatore was a big letdown. I expect I would have liked it better if I'd seen it before going to Trittico for the first time. A word of advice to readers: if you're only going to attend one opera this fall, go see Trittico, not Trovatore. SF Opera last performed the trio in 1952 and who knows when they'll revive this great production or cast it so fabulously well? And I can promise you that you'll recognize a couple of the tunes, too, even if you've never heard a note of Tabarro.
But, here's my take on Trovatore.
The sets are workable and unexpectionable, working fine in the house, not overdone or underdone. The direction, not so good - there is too much unmotivated wandering around the stage; sometimes it would be better if they just stood and sang. Patrick notes that no Spanish nobleman would have manhandled Leonora - and a nun - the way di Luna is directed to in this production. Uh-huh.
Luisotti is conducting, and he's great; the chorus sounds terrific and so does the orchestra. The performance was not quite note-complete; Leonora's cabalettas ("Di tale amor" and "Tu vedrai") both lost a verse and so did "Di quella pira."
The singing? Semi-modified rapture. Let's go from the bottom up.
Marco Berti, singing Manrico, is loud and graceless, shouts too often, interrupts the line constantly, aspirates, can't trill, and has an ugly voice. He had a couple of good moments, when he bothers to sing softly and pay attention to the words. He's an undistinguished actor and without either a great voice, great looks, or great presence, it's really hard to tell what Leonora would see in him.
Especially when the di Luna is the gorgeous Dmitri Hvorostovsky. Take a look at photos of the pair of them, and you'll see what I mean - I realize that everybody wants Hvorostovsky's striking white hair to show, but can you believe for a second that these guys (SPOILER WARNING) are brothers??
That said, I continue to be amazed that Hvorostovsky gets cast in Verdi dramatic baritone roles. He sounded out of sorts Friday night and I thought he would fall apart in the high register toward the end of Act I (which combines Verdi's Acts I and II). He doesn't have that big upward extension you need for Verdi baritone roles; he also shouts or barks for emphasis. It's a
beautiful voice, but he is a dullish singer and inert actor. I wish they'd just use him in Russian operas, not that we're likely to have many of those under Gockley.
Stephanie Blythe has an enormous voice and terrific technique, able to bring off Azucena's trills with suitable brilliance. She seems somehow wrong anyway, in timbre and in temperament, even though she is definitely observing all the score markings, has the dynamic and vocal range, etc. I'm reminded of something Marilyn Horne once said: "I tried Azucena and her money notes are just off mine. Not a good fit." Maybe the same is true here. I also didn't get much a sense of the character; she seemed too sane to me. Also, that outfit in the last act? Oy.
Best of all was certainly Sondra Radvanovsky, whom Brian at Out West Arts described as "freaking amazing." I'll drink to that: a beautiful, plangent, vibrant voice, big, focussed, with a slightly reedy edge that I find very appealing; she has the upward and downward range for the role, a gorgeous legato, wonderful sense of the line, and the ability to sing the full dynamic range required. Her trill is unreliable and her high pianissimos could have more body, but, really, she was wonderful. I seriously never thought I'd hear this music sung so well live. (S.F. Opera has clips of Marina Mesheriakova, the last Leonora here, on their web site, and she is embarrassing, especially next to S. Rad.)
It's true that there was a noticable coordination problem in "D'amor sull'ali rosee," her last-act aria; she and Luisotti just could not get together, despite valiant efforts on his part. (I was standing in the orch. section and could see those efforts!)
Oh, and the Ferrando, Burak Biligi? Eh. Nice voice, better in the house than at the ballpark, but again, too much aspirating, not enough attention to the line. I don't understand why they didn't get Philip Skinner or Kirk Eichelberger for this one; Skinner, especially, would have sung it better. And why was Biligi made up to look so much younger than Blythe when Ferrando is supposed to recognize her from however many years ago Azucena's mother was burned at the stake?
Overall, I came out the opera feeling kind of blah. At the ballpark broadcast, one of the features had Luisotti saying that this is one of the best casts in the world for Trovatore. Really? I am sure that there are better tenors, better baritones, better basses, and more suitable mezzos than SFO came up with. Yes, it was a big improvement over the last, awful production and cast, but there's a long way to go before we have a cast resembling, say, the famous Salzburg production (HvK/Price, Simionato, Corelli, Bastianini) or Mehta's 1969 recording (Price, Cossotto, Domingo, Milnes).