Everyone knows that opera doesn’t make any sense. Even if you allow for the fact that someone dying of consumption is unlikely to look quite so well fed and sound quite so note perfect, there’s the small matter of the often-awful plots. But even in this realm of slight and changing motivation and wafer-thin connection to reality, Verdi’s Il Trovatore deserves some kind of prize. It is utterly nonsensical. It is, however, also musically wondrous and brings out moments of emotional clarity and beauty. You just need to have amazing singers and a staging that allows you to forget the silly bits. And, credit to Royal Opera, they’ve managed it.
As someone who doesn’t even need an excuse to wheel out a badly whistled, hummed and foot-stomping version of the Anvil Chorus, I’m obviously going to be quite partial to a well-delivered Trovatore. But, despite that bias, I think this is a production, and quartet of lead performances, that deserves a loud and long round of applause with multiple shouts of bravo. If you don’t like this version you’re not going to like any version.
Leonora loves Manrico. Manrico loves Leonora. But Leonora is also pursued by the Count di Luna. The Count di Luna is fighting a war, in part to locate the younger brother his family are convinced did not die as a baby when it was thrown onto a fire by the gypsy Azucena. His family are right. Manrico is actually his brother although he has been raised as a son by Azucena who, all those years ago, threw the wrong baby into the flames. We all make mistakes. There are themes of vengeance, of love, of redemption. And in the end everyone is either dead or broken. In this staging directed by David Boesch and designed by Patrick Bannwart, they lie, fallen, beneath a buring heart. It works brilliantly. As does most of the rest of the production – armies are grey and fearful, gypsies are colourful but ragged, freedom is stopped by guns and barbed wire. The palette looks like Pan’s Labyrinth without the grotesque fairytale monsters. Brutality is commonplace, love struggles to shine through.
The singing is very good, although I’m sure people who know more could find some fault. Lianna Haroutounian as Leonora and Gregory Kunde as Manrico have the range to cover all the emotional territory required, Vitaliy Bilyy does both dastardly and love struck very well. But the best of the bunch is Anita Rachvelishvili as Acuzena. Don’t worry about the plot or why things are happening when that voice and that music tells you all you need to know.
The direction for the cinema relay worked well – a nice combination of semi close-up (but not too movie-esque) and pull back to reveal the whole stage. I’m not sure the speakers at the Hastings Odeon did justice to the chorus but everything else was nice and smooth. Clemency Burton-Hill was nicely enthusiastic and knowledgeable on presentation duties although I didn’t need to hear the Carruso quote about ‘needing the four greatest singers in the world’ quite so many times. The only real downside was the quite low turnout – definitely the smallest crowd I’ve been in for any relay, opera or theatre. Maybe folk didn’t want to venture out in the rain or maybe Celebrity Big Brother really is that compelling this year.
So, overall, a splendid evening. A production that takes what works and made it fly – and managed to distract you from the stuff that doesn’t work. And leaves you applauding a screen and wanting more. All good.