Review by Danny Gaisin
Verdi’s tragic 1853 opera IL TROVATORE is all about curses. This particular writer suffered his own curse vis-à-viswitnessing it. Three different companies went’ bust’ just before staging the masterwork. Finally, my own jinx is lifted… last evening we saw & heard a spectacularly sung rendering by Opera Hamilton.
Trovatore is a popular staple of the genre in spite of the difficulties and hurdles it imparts on its principal singers. The storyline is about executions so ghastly that the sufferers curse their murderers and implore revenge. It is these demands for vengeance that are the motivators for just about everything that happens until the apex retribution at curtain. The four major protagonists are a young count; son of the original stake-burning condemner; his object of passion – Leonora (of numerous overtures fame); an old lady who is the daughter of the burn-ee, and also the mother of the title character – troubadour Manrico for whom Leonora has the hots.
The villain – count Di Luna is cursed with the deathbed command to search for his perhaps dead brother. Baritone James Westman augments an impressive voice with instinctive acting talent that utilizes facial expression and stance. His rendering of ‘”il balen del suo sorriso” was potent with feeling When he realizes that he is ‘doomed to live on’, we can almost taste his personal anguish. The love interest is sung by Joni Henson who we’ve previously heard and enjoyed. Her soprano voice is faultless throughout the range and she easily runs the scale. Surprisingly, in Act III which should be her dramatic high point; all sense of drama was abandoned with only that voice performing. I remained unusually cool to her impending fate!
Azucena is the daughter/mother catalyst of both plots and mezzo Emilia Boteva almost steals the show from our hero. Two of her arias: – her ‘Condotta’ and the entreating ‘Ferma!’ almost stopped the opera with the ‘bravas’ and sustained applause. The lady put so much emotion into her role and interpretation that one would swear she was reliving a personal experience. If it weren’t for Richard Margison’s ‘Manrico’, conductor David Speers could have renamed the opera AZUCENA. But he was on stage, he did sing & he certainly brought the troubadour to life, vocally and charismatically. Even sitting at a table while the chorus & orchestra performed the familiar ‘Vedi le forsche notturne’ (anvil chorus) Margison kept audience focus on himself.
The duet>trio>quartet finale is one of opera’s super challenges. With its conflicting libretti, the Surtitles™ become redundant. Posture, expression, position and those incredible voices made it a visceral moment and a memorable occasion. It was worth my decades-long wait.
The are some negatives- the between-scenes pauses are extended, especially before the anvil chorus set-change. Chatter & text-message checking began to occur before the orchestra announced the Act II gypsy mountain redoubt. The sets are sparse… fortunately stage director Valerie Kuinka has embellished it with creative rear projections that art both artistic and creative. Another jarring moment, the convent to which Leonora plans to commit herself seems peopled by Arab jihadists rather than nuns!
IL TROVATORE is at Theatre Aquarius on King William St. with performances on April 17th, 19th & 21st.