Saturday, April 30, 2011

Warhorses Expertly Ridden

There are reasons why middle-period Verdi is so popular with the opera-going public. The stories are larger than life, dare we say “operatic”. Verdi’s music propels the story sans longueurs and limns the characters in Shakespearean fashion. His melodies wraps themselves around our hearts and linger in our brains forever after for future savoring. We have intense arias that tell us what the characters are feeling, impassioned duets, complex ensembles and stirring choruses that comment on the action and fill in the backstory. What’s not to love?

We can enjoy these so-called warhorses when they are adequately sung, but when they are superbly cast and sung we are transported. As a Verdi lover I enjoyed back-to-back performances at the Met of Rigoletto and Il Trovatore. The Otto Schenk production of Rigoletto transports us to 16th c. Mantua with such respect for time and place that we forget we are in an opera house. Zack Brown’s sets and costumes appear completely authentic. One feels very protective of this 1989 production and hopes it won’t be discarded in favor of some post-modern deconstruction with the Duke being fellated onstage!

We are in a palace in the middle of a wild party attended by the degenerate courtiers of a licentious Duke (nicely sung, except for some strained notes in the upper register, by tenor Giuseppe Filianoti); he gets his jollies by seducing their wives. Misshapen in body and spirit, the humpbacked jester Rigoletto (sung with great intensity by baritone Zeljko Lucic) derives whatever power and status he has from the Duke. So when the Duke seduces the innocent young daughter he keeps hidden away (exquisitely performed by soprano Diana Damrau), he has no course but to plot his revenge. In this he is aided by the paid assassin Sparafucile (effectively sung by the powerful bass Stefan Kocan). He is defeated by the curse of Monterone, one of the courtiers he has insulted (sung by Quinn Kelsey). The very sexy sister and accomplice of Sparafucile was sung by rich-voiced mezzo Nancy Fabiola Herrera.

Under the baton of Fabio Luisi, the Met orchestra gave their all. From the very first theme of the overture sneaking in under the lively party music we know there is tragedy coming down the pike. We do love us some Verdi!

And we loved us some Verdi the following night when Marco Armiliato conducted a riveting performance of Il Trovatore. This was a different cast from the one reviewed several months ago and, admittedly, it is harder to hate the nasty Count di Luna when sung by the glamorous Dmitri Hvorostovsky than it was when Lucic sang. It is a testament to his ability to act with his beautiful baritone that we can accept him as a villain. And it is a testament to the tender tenor arias of Marcelo Alvarez in the role of Manrico that we can accept Leonora choosing him over the sexy DH. Sondra Radvanovsky has a big beautiful soprano that fills up the entire house and we just love her wherever and whenever. Dolora Zajick makes a compelling gypsy Azucena. That generous bass of Stefan Kocan reappears as Ferrando who is responsible for introducing the backstory in the opening scene. More credit to him for making this implausible story comprehensible.

The revolving set is grey and spare, serving as castle wall, interior and prison. Only the gypsy camp has visual interest as a setting for the famous Anvil chorus, stirringly sung by the estimable Met chorus and amply decorated by some bare-chested men swinging the anvils. Eye candy for us ladies! David Vicar’s production is only two years old and one expects it to be around for awhile.

© meche kroop for The Opera Insider

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