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Monday, August 09, 2021

Vest-Pocket Verdi

THE GLIMMERGLASS FESTIVAL continues its pandemic-wary season with another 90-minute version of a popular opera, in this case Verdi’s “Il Trovatore.” It usually has a running time of about two and a half hours, if you don’t count intermission, so this means lopping about an hour off the piece.

Michael Mayes, Kameron Lopreore,
Gregory Kunde, Ron Dukes, & Latonia Moore
Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival
And it’s also a kind of hybrid performance, with the orchestra playing in the theater and the performance itself on an outdoor stage. So there’s no conductor’s entrance and no chance for an opening round of applause. And, in this opera, there’s not even an overture, so we’re launched right into the opening number, which in this case is the top of Act Two, the mighty “Anvil Chorus,” rendered without apparent onstage metalworking.

But you can’t get too fancy what with the lean casting. We have only a handful of Romani in the encampment, and those singers do double- and triple-duty as soldiers and nuns. This production focuses more on the principals than the ensemble numbers, so, staying in the second act, we start right off with Azucena’s story.

It’s a doozy. “Stride la vampa,” she sings, “The blaze cries out,” and goes on to tell the story of a woman, burned alive, whose last words were “avenge me!” It was all the more persuasive as the audience for last Saturday’s 11 AM performance sweltered in the hot sun’s 80-degree heat. Azucena needs a big voice and commanding presence, which mezzo-soprano Raehann Bryce-Davis effortlessly delivered. She gave me shivers despite the heat.

Tenor Gregory Kunde sang the role of Manrico, her adopted son, whose paternity will twist the story. After he is horrified by a more detailed version of Azucena’s tale, he offers his own slice of misery – that he spared the life of the evil Count di Luna during a duel (“Mal reggendo all’aspro assalto”) owing to a strange feeling that stayed his hand. Again, excellent work by the singer.

He’s in love with Leonore, who thinks he’s dead and thus is headed to take the veil. Before we go to the convent, however, there’s an interlude at the Count’s headquarters, where Ferrando, captain of the Count’s army, dips back into Act One to tell the unhappy story (not that there’s any other kind of story in this piece) of the Count’s father and his two sons (“Di due figli vivea padre beato”) one of whom was stolen by a malevolent Gypsy. Peter Morgan, part of the Festival’s Young Artists program, did an admirable job with the role of Ferrando.

The Count’s soldiers carry modern arms and Ferrando himself is in a heavy, heavily decorated uniform. What with all the guns and superstition, as bad information incites the various groups to riotous behavior, there’s quite the all-American feel to this production.

Gregory Kunde and Raehann Bryce-Davis
Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival
The simple, multi-purpose stage, with its stand of trees and convenient stairways, becomes a convent simply by the change of music and the appearance of nuns. And we meet Leonora (Latonia Moore) and Ines (Stephanie Sanchez, another Young Artist). Moore gave fantastic voice to the aria “Tacea la notte placida,” recalling her love for Manfredo, but Ines counters with a premonition, of course. It’s not going to end well.

Any doubt we may have had about the outcome vanishes when Count di Luna makes his delayed entrance (he’s usually met in the midst of Act One). He’s going to possess Leonore, whatever it takes, and he explains, to Ferrando, her charms in “l balen del suo sorriso” – perhaps the most affecting aria in an opera littered with great tunes. Baritone Michael Mayes did what a bad guy ought to do: melt your heart a little, so you are confused, for a moment, about whom you’re rooting for.

We who grew up with Errol Flynn and Live from the Met will never be convinced that guns are as effective as swords when it comes to a passionate confrontation; perhaps it’s an effort to connect with a Flynn-free younger audience that put these weapons in the antagonists’ hands. Di Luna and Manfredo had just such a face-off as the doughty tenor dragged Leonore away so that the pair of them could celebrate their doomed love

“Ah sì, ben mio, coll'essere,” he sings – “When I’ll be yours and you’ll be mine” – compelling her to join him in one of the high points, the duet “L'onda de' suoni mistici.” And then it’s all downhill. Manfredo and Azucena end up in prison, where Leonora goes to try to secure their release. By the time she sang “D’amor sull’ali rosee,” an impassioned Act Four moment before all hell breaks loose, she was showing a little strain reaching the higher notes.

Those who don’t die by the end of the opera are doomed to live in some form of agony. “Vengeance is my only god,” di Luna insists, and he certainly gets his share of it before his own comeuppance is revealed. “Il Trovatore” has a plot that falls apart in the face of close analysis, yet the piece is a perennial favorite. Passion and melody are its calling cards, but I think it also needs a goodly amount of time to carry us along. Ninety minutes allows us to enjoy its highlights, but I’d like to wallow in its excesses as well.

Il Trovatore
Music by Giuseppe Verdi; libretto by Salvadore Cammarano
Conducted by Joseph Colaneri
Directed by Francesca Zambello and Eric Sean Fogel
The Glimmerglass Festival, August 7

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