Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Finding Trovatore...?

I never quite 'got' it before. Il trovatore was way over my head. Too difficult. What's going on? Blood and guts, sure - but why? Am I too stupid to understand? Last night we went to see it at Covent Garden, to catch Marcelo Alvarez [above - photo by Catherine Ashmore] doing that high C. Finally, I got it. The blood and guts are for the sake of it. Oh. Right.

Someone once said that all you need to perform Trovatore successfully is the four greatest voices on earth. Covent Garden has at least one who's seriously impressive: Stephanie Blythe as Azucena. Blimey, guv'nor, no wonder Manrico is dominated by his madre! (I read that the Covent Garden premiere in 1855 starred Pauline Viardot: that must have been an experience of a lifetime...) As for Alvarez, he has plenty of brawn and went for it molto con belto, which I guess is which he's meant to do. Orchestra under Nicolo Luisotti was jolly impressive - sensitive, careful, singer-oriented accompanying (which was more than could be said for Pappano in Carmen).

And somewhere there lurk the ghosts of the Marx Brothers. They couldn't have chosen a better piece to take off in A Night at the Opera.

I still expected Groucho to swing from the rafters, Harpo to materialise under Azucena's headscarf or the orchestra to burst into 'Take me out to the ball game'. They didn't. But it's still a rip-roaring good night, once all disbelief has been set to 'off' for three hours.

Here's a quick Trovatore quiz. No prizes.

As a piece of music theatre, is Il trovatore, compared to Evita,
a) better
b) worse
c) about the same?

In portraying their characters, are the stars of this opera in 2006
a) identifying profoundly with them
b) thinking 'what a load of b*****s'
c) thinking 'heck, let's get those top notes, then go eat'?

In its portrayal of Gypsies, is Il trovatore
a) remarkably sympathetic for its time
b) using colourful ethnic exoticism as raw material for its finest chorus
c) desperately racist?

Is Leonora
a) a strong, powerful, modern woman
b) a victim of circumstance
c) totally stupid, throwing herself away on a man who loves his mother better than he loves her?

Is Manrico
a) a thrilling, heroic revolutionary
b) a male chauvinist pig
c) a typical musician?

Last but by no means least, this is how to make the opera convincing: