Sunday, August 28th, on PBS Verdi’s Il Trovatore, a story of love, hate, and revenge, all the things we love about opera, aired from the MET’s most recent live in HD series. With conductor Marco Armiliato at the baton and an outstanding cast including Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Sondra Radvanovsky, Marcelo Alvarez, and Dolora Zajick, Il Trovatore’s gripping score was in good hands from start to finish.
With a constantly twisting plot, the story telling came through very clearly, amplifying the drama packed storyline. The opera opens with Ferrando, captain of the guard, played by bass Štefan Kocán recounting a fiery tale of bewitchment, abduction, and revenge to his guards. Kocán’s dark bass voice is enough to set the eerie mood, but coupled with the tale of the “bewitchment” of a child, the Count di Luna’s brother, by a gypsy who is burned at the stake for this offense, and the vengeance of the gypsy’s daughter, who, in turn is said to have burned the child alive, is enough to send chills down anybody’s spine. Within the first 10 minutes the audience is already hooked and dying to meet the characters surrounding the mystery.
Before we meet anyone involved in the morbid triangle of revenge, however, we meet Lenora, played by soprano Sondra Radvanovsky, who ties all the characters together in this fateful tale. Lenora, object of both Manrico and the Count di Luna’s love, is in love with Manrico, the troubadour, but pursued relentlessly by the Count di Luna. Upon finding out not only that Lenora loves the troubadour, but that the troubadour is Manrico, his political enemy, his hatred is inflamed and his menacing amplified. Manrico, who spares di Luna’s life on multiple occasions, is not shown the same compassion by di Luna who is so plagued by jealousy that he will stop at nothing to see Manrico suffer.
Radvanovsky’s voice is strong, piercing, and possesses an almost metallic quality which was not necessarily the perfect vocal fit for the character of Lenora. Radvanovsky, however, showed great physical and vocal dexterity on stage, bringing this innocent victim of love to life. Lenora’s devotion Manrico, played by Marcelo Alvarez, is heartbreaking, most of all in the finale scene. Having bartered herself for Manrico’s freedom, she chooses death by poison rather than betray Manrico, even for his life’s sake. Every hope and every sacrifice in this opera, however, proves to be in vain as Manrico does not leave Lenora’s side until her final breath when di Luna has him dragged to his execution after realizing he has been deceived.
Alvarez, in the role of Manrico, really let loose during the finale of the opera. He performed beautifully but the chemistry between him and all his costars really flourished during the drama filled finale act. When he realizes Lenora’s bargin with di Luna, the sadness in his voice was written also on his face. The cast played to their live audience as always but did not forget about the cameras, paying attention to details that make the Live in HD experience so spectacular. Dolora Zajick’s character, Azucena, the mysterious gypsy daughter and “mother” of Manrico, presents a truly puzzling figure. Her two Act 2 arias, “Stride La Vampa” and “Condotta ell’era in ceppi”, detail, again, her unsettling background and, coupled with Zajick’s superb vocal coloring and acting, the character’s unstable state of mind.
From the moment he walks on stage Dmitri Hvorostovsky, in the role of the Count di Luna, exhibits the gait of his resentful, malevolent character. His full baritone voice, passionate and resonant, soared in both his moments of sheer ecstasy and disorienting rage. From an extravagant plan of abduction from the cloister to a bargin for Manrico’s life, di Luna is always out-manned, out-witted, and humiliated, making him a sympathetic character, despite his villainy.
Through this long opera relationships become more intense, characters become more unstable, and suspense builds. Held out all the way to the final minutes, the gypsy, being held captive with Manrico by di Luna, gives us what we’ve been waiting for, reconciliation. Azucena has revealed to the audience long before that the child she cast into the flames was not di Luna’s brother, but her own son. Azucena reveals this to di Luna, however, after he has already executed his brother. Di Luna is overcome by horror while the gypsy exclaims “Sei vendicata, o madre!” (You are avenged, oh mother!) where she is overcome by both relief for her mother and grief for di Luna’s brother whom she loved like a son.
In this opera nobody wins. Manrico cannot be with Lenora, Lenora cannot save Manrico, Dmitri loses both Lenora and his brother, and the gypsy’s vengeance is more bitter than sweet. With all eyes on the gypsy as the scene closes, it is impossible to tell whether Azucena is laughing at di Luna, running in the irony of having killed the brother he spent his who life looking for, crying for her lost son whom she had to sacrifice for her mother’s sake, or a demented combination of the two.