Opera on the heights, 2021 review: Il Trovatore
(Photo credit: Lerner Productions, LLC)
Whether or not this was boosted by COVID, more and more companies seem to be making post-streams or online feeds of their productions available. This one, Verdi’s “Il Trovatore”, comes from the Houston Opera House in Heights, a regional company that seeks to provide a platform for emerging artists and affordable and accessible productions for the Houston area. The company owes its name to its main stage, Lambert Hall, on Houston’s Heights Blvd.
One of the perks of all of these presentations is of course the ability to see shows you wouldn’t normally see and performers you wouldn’t have met so easily. We’ve all been starving for live performances for the past couple of years (almost) but these days you can sit in Sydney or Glasgow and sample a range of Los Angeles productions (and casts) at the Texas as easily as you may have already watched. live from the Met. It is something more.
And that was undoubtedly a major highlight in the context of this particular production of Verdi’s seminal masterpiece of the Intermediate Period.
Up close and personal
An oft-repeated quote regarding “Il trovatore” is the adage of Enrico Caruso: “All it takes for a successful performance of ‘Il trovatore’ are the four greatest singers in the world. He was referring to the vital importance of the four main characters – tenor Manrico and baritone Count di Luna, rivals in war while vying for the love of soprano Leonora, but tragically oblivious that they are brothers, whose relationship was mutilated by the “witch”, Mezzo Azucena, accused of revenge against the count’s family before the start of the opera.
The story may seem ridiculous summed up briefly, but the narrow focus of this production which originated in a small room, honed by close-up video work, served Verdi’s prescription for the drama: “the staggering confrontation.” And the main four Dane Suarez as Manrico, Natalie Polito as Leonora, Nathan Matticks as the Earl and Anne Maguire as Azucena served as strong pillars on which the drama could rest, ably assisted by the other cast members and a small but effective – in the “space” – chorus – particularly effective in the famous “Miserere” (when Manrico faces death), which is delivered here from the side of the stage.
It was good to get closer, to get closer to the text, and to appreciate, for example, the intensity invested by Natalie Polito in her memory of the way Manrico (the “troubador” of the title) serenaded her. (“Tacea la notte placida”), the urgency with which she remembered what he called her by name. You could almost “see” her running to the balcony to listen to her. You could not only hear but see the suppressed rage of Matticks “Io fremo” when, as an earl, thinking of his rival.
But it was good to also have the feeling of being closer to the music, like when Manrico (Dane Suarez) so logically engaged in a kind of crazy declamation for his cabaletta “Di quella pira” while learning that his supposed mother, Azucena had been apprehended by the count’s men. These three protagonists would have been impressive performers live in the theater – their trio from Act 1 (“Di geloso amor sprezzato”) was particularly moving.
Anne Maguire sang Azucena, on whose revenge the drama revolves. There were many captivating details in the narration of her large numbers where she recounts the tragedies (injustices) that led to her bitter resolution: “Stride la vampa” and “Condotta ell’era in ceppi” – hushed, biting illustration observation, a wide vocal range constantly bewitching the ear.
A look to the future
A video production rules the eye and it was a shame not being able to look away every now and then and watch the conductor Eiki Isomura as he deftly controlled the rhythm of this drama, but the orchestra did surreptitiously fueled events. In some ways, the video presentation exposed the boundaries of the place which was small, or more critical, narrow. Long shots revealed EXIT signs or a distinguished orchestral player among the many who deserved recognition. But the principal’s close-ups were well chosen and effective, and suggested that this opera could be successful without the panoramic historical context that a person might assume is necessary.
Director Cara Consilvio’s conception of the events of the opera as taking place somewhat in a future where the Count is a billionaire, one of the 1 percent, overcame the difficulties that arise today in the play regarding the representation of the Roma, a group of which Azucena leads. It was a smart idea to turn this wandering gang into a bunch of homeless people (a growing subset of the 99% of this future dystopia?), Who haul their things in shopping carts. Grinding the drink cans for recycling was therefore a particularly clever way to make up for the lack of anvils to hammer on in Act Two’s famous “Anvil Chorus”.
The overall selection of shots was transparent, harmonizing well with the shape of the musical moments. And being able to watch online and not be interrupted for an interval revealed that Verdi’s opera enjoys uninterrupted momentum.
In fact, there have been a number of disclosures in this production. The story works if elucidated with surtitles (on video: subtitles) of elegance and standard provided by Eiki Isomura and Cara Consilvio and “Il trovatore” works like a chamber opera. In fact, this style of presentation serves to tighten the focus on these four key roles, these lead singers, and their pursuit of these extraordinary relationships.