KPBS AIRDATE: January 28, 2000
Opera is theater writ large. The emotions are extreme, and in the case of “Il Trovatore,” even the story is overblown. Though some complain about the complexity of Verdi’s plot, it all makes perfect sense by the end, with a little help from the English supertitles.
Two brothers, separated in infancy, know nothing of each other’s existence. One has been raised by his own royal family; the other was stolen as a baby and brought up by a gypsy. Over the course of the opera, the brothers clash repeatedly: as rivals for the love of Leonora; as enemies in a bitter civil war; and as adversaries in a bloody family feud. Not to give too much away, in case you aren’t familiar with the 1853 opera, just about everyone dies by the end. It’s a dark and challenging opener for the San Diego Opera’s 35th season. But the result is richly rewarding.
In concert with its brooding theme, the production is dimly but beautifully lit, and costumed in gloomy colors. The pace, however, suffers as the handsome sets sluggishly change eight times during the three-hour evening. But once the house lights go down again, and the curtain rises on each new scene, the stage picture is breathtaking. John David Peters’ outstanding scenic design features stately pillars and flaming fire-pits, a bleak dungeon and a lovely fountain, effectively evoking 15th century Spain. But it seemed like, after he set the stage, the opera company’s general director Ian Campbell didn’t push on from there. The direction is static throughout, with minimal movement and little stage business.
Good opera also has to be good theater, and in this area, the production leaves something to be desired. But in the musical domain, obviously where most of the attention was focused, it is heavenly. Under the direction of Edoardo Müller, the music from the pit is magnificent, encouraging potent output from the chorus of 58, especially in the lively and familiar “Anvil Chorus.”
Although the tenor sings the leading role, the soprano steals the show. The budding diva Sondra Radvanovsky, a graduate of the Metropolitan Opera’s prestigious Young Artists Program, creates the most credible character on the stage, and her voice shows a remarkable decisiveness, impressive at both ends of the register. She sparkles in the extremes of her emotional range, too: at the moment of her self-inflicted death, when she vows her undying love, and early on, when she expresses her giddy passion for the troubadour of the title.
The baritone Richard Zeller plays the spiteful Count Di Luna with a powerful voice and a swaggering presence. As Manrico, the title character, tenor Richard Margison is often impressive in his singing, but unvaried in his movements and acting. The secondary leads are serviceably sung. But the overarching whole is satisfying, visually and musically.
©2000 Patté Productions Inc.