Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Metropolitan Opera's "Il Trovatore (2012)" DVD in Review

Marcelo Álvarez (Manrico)
Sondra Radvanovsky (Leonora)
Dolora Zajick (Azucena)
Dmitri Hvorostovsky (Il Conte di Luna)
Stefan Kocán (Ferrando)
The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus, Marco Armiliato
Production by David McVicar

Enrico Caruso once commented that all it takes for a successful production of il Trovatore are four great voices, perhaps insinuating that there’s no point trying to make sense of its convoluted plot. This makes light of the dramatic impact of the story where extreme emotions are the motivation for the great music that accompanies the host of characters through their ill-fated experiences.

Filmed at the Metropolitan Opera in 2011 and released earlier this year, it is a very dramatically cohesive production coupled with an equally great musical performance. It is rich in detail that enhances rather than distract from the script, adding a great layer of depth to what is being sung. It’s a production that takes its source material seriously and works hard to make every character a believable human being.

With the exception of Alvarez, the other leads practically built their respective international careers through this opera, thereby meeting Caruso’s prerequisite of four great voices. It is to director David MacVicar’s credit that instead of coasting by on past experience, the cast sang and interacted with incredible chemistry, incredible detail. There is not a moment when a performer snaps out of character, not a stare that’s given without intent. Duets are sung and acted in a cohesive whole, mining every repeat for different moods and expressions.

I have read numerous posts on Parterre Box about the talents of Sondra Radvanovsky, but this is the first time I’ve seen her in a full role, and one of her calling card roles at that. I found most of the criticism of her flaws to be true: her way of phrasing the odd note just slightly below pitch, a few of them in every phrase, and an unusually fast vibrato in her timbre, so much so that I wondered why she would even attempt to do trills when her regular voice would do the trick. It’s a sound that takes a while to get used to. Strangely most of the big high notes and coloratura passages are beautifully on pitch, just when you would be expecting the worst.

But oh what a VOICE! Luscious, velvety tone and a HUGE sound with whopping high notes that actually get bigger up the range. Side-stepping the above-mentioned technical flaws, she is a master technician who can hold pianissimo high notes for ages. Her singing of D’amor sullali rosee is one of the most breathtaking intepretations I have ever heard (and I’ve heard my fair share), the way she sings a big high note and then decrescendos into floating piano tones was simply stunning, as is the restless desperation she portrayed throughout the entire tower scene, a far cry from the calm resignation of traditional interpretations. And yes, Tu vedrai is included (even if without the repeat), and she absolutely knocks it out of the park!

Marcello Alvarez is growing into a fine lyrical-spinto tenor. The voice is full and plush, and he uses it with finely thought-out musicianship. Ah si ben mio is mostly sung in a floated piano tone, as beautiful as it is true to his characterisation. He then delivered a whooping high C in Di quella pira that brought the house down. However he has an annoying way of stressing on a particular word by barking it out, thereby breaking his lovely legato line and not really theatrically effective, but he sounds great nonetheless.

But despite cooperating with what must have been a great deal of directorial intervention, his stage presence is still very much the stereotypical operatic tenor stock gestures. He would often self-conduct with his right hand, shaping phrases of what the voice is producing. It’s a little distracting, but he gets into the part convincingly nonetheless.

Its great to finally have Dimitri Hvorostovsky’s Conte di Luna on a recording. It’s everything that I would expect: smooth, buttery voice, wonderful breath control where phrases go on forever, sung and acted tastefully and entirely in tune with the drama.

Having sung countless Azucenas around the world, Delora Zajick is vocally perfect for the entire role. Not a fault to be had. Resonant on both extreme ends of the vocal range, one marvels one moment at her booming chest voice followed by a solid high note in the same number or even the same bit of recitative. One might want a slightly edgy way of phrasing, something with a bit more bite, but there’s no faulting her tremendous vocal power and her insights into the role. There are no grand diva gestures from the director nor the diva herself, just a pared-down, straight forward interpretation that lets the drama surrounding her strange circumstances speak for itself.

The production is set in a desert during the Spanish Civil War. In interviews with Renee Fleming, the cast would often praise the fact that the sets are built on different parts of a rotating stage so that scene changes can be done immediately, and that dramatic tension can be upheld without long scene changes. This is not something of a concern for video viewers, since any lengthy scene changes would have been edited out anyway. But it’s interesting to watch a set rotate into another one, Les Miz style, as the characters are still singing in the previous scene. Barren landscapes and a foreboding tower with a caged gate take turns upfront to set the background for different parts of the opera.

Overall, this DVD is one for the ages. It’s one where good old-fashioned vocalism is nicely paired with the contemporary theatricality of modern opera productions, without hitting audiences over the head with irrelevant symbolism. High-quality HD visuals and DTS sound is just the icing on the cake. One simply cannot ask for more. Shove this in the face of the next old-fogey who complains that there are no great voices in opera today.

1 comment:

  1. i heard dolora zajick as azucena recently in june and she was amazing. i dont think the dvd did her justice at all: the resonance, the way she can shade the dynamics even the way she can still more than handle all the trills at her age. and of course that chest voice is still there and bigger than ever.



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