Friday, March 15, 2013

IL TROVATORE




Arnold Rawls as Manrico
By Giuseppe Verdi

 Joan Sutherland Theatre -Sydney Opera House

26th February 2013

Reviewed by Bill Stephens





Regarded as one of Giuseppe Verdi’s most popular operas, possibly because of the inclusion of “The Anvil Chorus”, “Il Trovatore has some of Verdi’s finest music bound up in a fairly turgid story of sibling rivalry, maternal sacrifice and passionate love affairs which offers plenty of scope for bold characterization and strong, dramatic confrontations.

If you judge the success of an operatic production only on the quality of the singing then certainly Opera Australia’s current production of “Il Trovatore” is an outstanding success. The singing is consistently glorious throughout. According to Opera Australia Artistic Director, Lyndon Terracini, Enrico Caruso was fond of saying that ““Il Trovatore” is easy to stage all you need is the four best singers in the world “.
Daria Masiero as Leonora - Arnold Rawls as Manrico

Even if they’re not the four best singers in the world – and who’s to judge that? – Milijana Nikolic, Michael Honeyman, Daria Masiero and Arnold Rawls still constitute a formidable quartet.  Their singing, both solo and combined, together with the full rich sounds elicited by conductor Arvo Volmer, from the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra, and the Opera Australia chorus, resulted in a deeply satisfying aural feast.  

Michael Scott-Mitchell’s towering, flexible set design, lit quite magically by Nick Schlieper, made sure the eyes were appropriately feasted also.  Particularly memorable is the scene in which the great doors of the convent slowly open to reveal multiple red-lit icons which in turn slide away to reveal nuns.  

However, moving of the period to the 1936/39 Spanish Civil War robbed costume designer Judith Hoddinott of the opportunity for spectacular costuming. The best that can be said of the current, not particularly flattering, costumes is that they ‘look right’. However many of them also look as though they have been cherry-picked from other productions and those for the female principals being particularly unflattering. Why do directors continually feel the necessity to bring ‘relevance’ to their productions by changing the period? What’s the matter with presenting the opera as the composer intended and take advantage of contempory staging techniques to make them more acceptable to modern audiences if necessary.  

The nude scene for the soldiers seemed snappier than previously remembered, and certainly made the audience sit up in their seats, but why the old-fashioned semaphore acting style adopted by the principals?  At times the acting was so overstated that it bordered on the ridiculous, often so extreme that it was hard not to giggle instead of being moved by the plight of the characters.  This over-acting was not remembered from previous productions, and as Matthew Barclay is credited with the direction ‘based on a production by Elke Neidhardt’, one can only imagine that this must surely be some misconceived innovation he has imposed.

Over-acting aside, it was a pleasure to revisit this production and thrill to Verdi's sublime score, especially when performed as superbly as it is by this current cast. 

Milijana Nikolic as Azucena - Michael Honeyman as Count di Luna
                                                                All photos by Branco Gaica

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