Verdi just isn’t Verdi without a cast that has the measure of the music and its vital role as the lifeblood of his operas. In Il trovatore, a tortuous and complex tale of confused relationships, spiteful jealousy and hideous revenge, with music that is all blood and thunder, everything hinges on powerful vocal displays. On that count alone, this restaging by director Martin Lloyd-Evans of Scottish Opera’s original 1992 production is a winner.
Scottish Opera: Il Trovatore - Theatre Royal, Glasgow
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From the outset, a strongly characterised cast draws you into its menacing and suspicious world, riven by Spanish civil war. Jonathan May’s Ferrando sets the scene – tough, clean-sung and authoritative – with the soldiers’ chorus masked in shadowy light like a Rembrandt painting and singing with venomous cut and thrust.
But then come the central quartet, and a combination of performances that ignite this spare, dark-hued production. Roland Wood’s Count di Luna is ruthlessly unfeeling, sung with stoical resilience, yet allowing those essential specks of weakness to seep through the character. Claire Rutter is as circumspect in her role as Leonora, genuinely strong of mind, and mostly passionate vocally, despite occasionally losing the sustained intensity.
The most magnetic pairing is that of Gwyn Hughes Jones as Manrico, and Anne Mason as the gypsy Azucena. Hughes Jones’s tenor voice soars heroically in the big numbers, a kind of tragic ecstasy that fits his troubled role to a T, but Mason is the unquestionable star of the show. Her mezzo soprano voice exudes a rich, golden quality across its entire range, imbuing this Azucena with the essential combination of hot-bloodedness and tender affection. A truly memorable performance.
In the pit, Swedish conductor Tobias Ringborg elicits a renewed sense of purpose from the Scottish Opera Orchestra. There is fire in their belly, tempered nonetheless by Ringborg’s insistence on clarity of texture and energised, but disciplined, pacing. He reacts instinctively to the nuances of the singers, without allowing the momentum to falter.
With all that coming together so well, the blandness of the original set – solid, cold and chunky, and economical on props – is not such an issue. The main visual interest comes from Robert B Dickson’s creative lighting designs, where carefully angled spots throw up alarming shadows, and the mood-painting is subtle but threatening.
The chorus is strongest from the macho male perspective, the females in the convent scene decidedly thinner in quality. But it’s a production that serves Verdi well.
Seen on 07.05.15
• Ends today