Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Il Trovatore at the Met

Text and Photos by Yige Li

Il Trovatore, opera in four acts
Music by Giuseppe Verdi
Libretto by Salvadore Cammarano, based on the play "El trovador" by Antonio García Gutiérrez

Co-production of the Metropolitan Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, and San Francisco Opera Association

This review is of the general impression on the whole run of this opera during fall 2015, at the Metropolitan Opera House, in New York City, NY

Conductor: Marco Armiliato
Leonora: Anna Netrebko
Manrico: Yonghoon Lee / Antonello Palombi
Azucena: Dolora Zajick
Gypsy: Edward Albert
Count Di Luna: Dmitri Hvorostovsky / Vitaliy Bilyy
Ferrando: Stefan Kocán
Ines: Maria Zifchak
Ruiz: Raúl Melo
Messenger: David Lowe

Production: David McVicar
Stage Director: Paula Williams
Set Designer: Charles Edwards
Costume Designer: Brigitte Reiffenstuel
Lighting Designer: Jennifer Tipton
Choreographer: Leah Hausman 

After watching Anya in "Il Trovatore" in MET for five times (four performances, plus the final dress rehearsal), maybe it's time to give a brief report summarizing some my impressions. In short, brilliant performances, and Anna Netrebko showed once more how inspiring this great singing actress can make of a performance to be.

Firstly, other singer:

The title role of Manrico was sung by Yonghoon Lee in the first five performances (I attended three of which) and Antonello Palombi in the last one (which I attended as well). In short, we don't have world-class voice for Manrico currently. Between the two, Lee was the one with a better and more consistent instrument, but Palombi had a more suitable instrument and better sense of the style. Lee's characterization was more on the overexerting side, while Palombi's was sometimes too casual.

The role of Count di Luna was shared by Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Vitaliy Bilyy. Having dominated this role for years, Dima showed everything one could expect from a completely mature artist. Maybe it's the recent off stage drama happened on him, I felt that his singing had even more sensitivity than before. It was so clear that not only audience appreciated the opportunity to see him again, he himself also appreciated the opportunity to perform again. He gave his best, and it was touching. Vitaliy Bilyy certainly cannot match Dima on charisma and artistry. But his solid voice, technique, and musicianship showed that he would have a good future.

How great it is to have a almost legend as Dorola Zajick to sing Azucena (at this point she is the mezzo having sung the most amount of Azucena in MET history)! Surely the voice had some age and wear, but is preserved well mostly. And what a powerhouse voice it is! It's safe to say, at 60+, she's still the best Azucena around. Character-wise, she may not be the kind of singer that consciously digging deep into the character, but surely years of experience could have so strong impact, that every thing just came out so naturally. She IS Azucena.

Marco Armiliato was in the pit conducting. He has the reputation of being a singer's conductor. For my experience, he always tried his best to support singers onstage, never having the ego to overshadow them. Basically, how good the orchestra can be pedants on how good the singers are. When singers onstage were a disaster, the orchestra can hardly be better than them. But here, as we had such brilliant cast, the orchestra got inspired as well. These were some best conducting of maestro Armiliato that I had heard.

Štefan Kocán gave a respectable portray of Ferrando (honestly, there isn't too much interpenetrating opportunity in this role), as did other supporting cast and the MET chorus.

Then, the part that I'm most interested in (I guess also the case for most readers of this blog), and the reason that I went to MET for the same production again and again, Anya. It's with great interest to see how she gave out her interpenetration in this production, comparing to her own previous performances in the productions in Berlin and Salzburg (she also did one performance in the production of Mariinsky, but I don't have too much information about the performance), as well as previous revivals of the production in MET.

Many people realized that she had some newly made costume, when comparing with previous revivals of this production. Namely, a dark pink dress with a burgundy cape outside in Act 1; then a gypsy flavored head kerchief in Act 3. Some critic said it's very old-time diva feeling (in a good sense). However, it's more than being a diva (though, one needs to be a diva first to ask these specially made stuffs for her). It's not for Anna, but for Leonora. It's Anna Netrebko, the complete ARTIST, asking, so that the visual, her singing, her physical acting, would cope with the concept of production and the score as a tight combination. (I sensed it a very typical Anya's touch, as the blonde wig for Lady Macbeth last season. So, after dress rehearsal, I asked her if it's her idea to have these new costumes, she answered yes.)

Less to critics' notice is that not only she got new costumes, but also more than one wigs (while in previous revivals it's always one wig from the beginning to the end). During the Times Talk, when Anya said Peter Gelb was very responsible and supportive when she asked for change of costumes and wigs, she's not talking about nothing. In Act 1 and 2, her wig is in up-do style, and in Act 3, her hair is all inside the head kerchief--it's not until Act 4, that her wig gets fully loosed.

Combine the effects of costume and wig, we can have already seen the development of this character--from a noble lady confined in her comfort zone with the fantasy of love and passion to a brave girl fully converting herself to the lifestyle of gypsy following the guidance of love, finally to the point to sacrifice herself for love.

This development I feel being very essential in her performance in THIS production. Both the productions in Berlin and Salzburg treat the plot of this opera more as a fantasy/dream, however this production of Sir David McVicar takes it for real. Setting in Peninsular War with the dark stage and Goya's "La romería de San Isidro", one of his Black Paintings, as the curtain, Sir David underlined the societal schizophrenia, thus the individuals' reactions within this frame. Anya's task was to find a continuous spectrum of vocal colors for Leorona from beginning to end when getting more and more into the "real world".

And the easier part is actually the vocally more demanding last act, which she got great success. Either soaring the high pianissimo with mezza voce in "D'amor sull'ali rosee" or aggressively digging into chest in "Miserere", the mind and voice was essentially on a firm ground, with occasional outrage. Then in the "Tu vedrai che amore in terra", in the repeating verse, she added more contracts between phrases, beginning with the first sentence more into chest than the first time singing these same notes (this could be an idea she developed during the run, as it was not very obvious in final dress and opening, but more and more in later performances), to later with restrained pianissimo, as if Leonora was fascinated by her own idea, then blooming out again. This almost felt like a great mad scene in a bel canto opera--in the sense that the heroine being extremely concentrate to her own mind. Then, in the duet with Count di Luna, she sang with urgency, but less begging than ordering. At that point, Leorona had already got to the statue that she bravely challenged the fate and faced the count spiritually superior. Later in the last 10 minutes of the opera, her reaction on Manrico's refusing to leave had more fury. In Salzburg, when singing "Ah! Fuggi, fuggi! O sei perduto!", she used a more empty voice, while not watching Manrico (and later even sang the line with her back to Manrico), showing so much desperation as if she had already seen the end, here, she used a fuller voice, singing every "fuggi" facing Manrico, never gave up trying. When reaching the point of "Ho la morte in semi!... Ah, fu più rapida la forza del veleno ch'io non pensava!", again, she gave more contracts to the phrase, with more fury, as if asking the God why giving her such a cruel result for her sacrifice. As when Mary Jo Heath said "you play her as a very fiery determined young woman" in the radio interview, she replied that "I think it's part of me coming out from there", one can truly felt that she brought her personal volcano onto stage there.

Compared to the end in which she can simply open up her voice and give out her soul, the more difficult part is actually the beginning. Of course, it's vocally difficult per se to get onto stage then sing the big aria immediately. But what makes it more difficult is the way she chose to paint this aria. When she sang the same music in concert, she used a more straightforward way and the result was brilliant. However, when in a concert, the logic of the aria is just within itself; when in the opera, the logic must be placed in the whole plot. It's not only a woman talking about her passion and love, it also sets the position where the character begins. If we can say this Leonora is "above" the world in the last act, then here in the first act, she's kind of "isolated from" the world. Meanwhile, as Leonora is not a complete idiot (or maybe she is?), she has some sense and feeling of the danger of the world. Thus we heard when portraying the Leorona here, she combined the feeling of insecurity and nervousness into the passion and excitement. And this is the hard part. While the character can be (or, should be) insecure and nervous dramatically, the singer acting the character with her voice cannot be insecure and nervous vocally. From performance to performance, Anya sometimes found the fine balance, sometimes had both voice and drama bit to the too secure side or the other. However, she never chose the easier way of singing it just as some beautiful music to harvest cheap praising.

In the two inner acts, Leonora doesn't have big arias to sing. Still, Anya paid much attention to give the proper color to the singing. There were two moments left me more than usual strong impression. One is in Act 2 Scene 2, that how in a short sentence of "E deggio e posso crederlo? Ti veggo a me d'accanto", she began from stiffness asking if what she saw was true, to the bit sweetness on the word "d'accanto". The other is at the beginning of Act 3 Scene 2, the gloomy and urgency in the voice had already indicated her destiny, while she remained firm to what she chose. Nervous and insecure Leonora was, but different to the one in Act 1. (And should I add that when the tuning stage brought her to the stage front at this scene, the way she sat in the shadow had already brought out so much tension of the drama?)

On top of Anya's vocal acting was her physical acting, which did not add to but multiply to her vocal acting. In one interview, she said there are not too much thing to act. Indeed, in many places, the plot is very still, it's the music that takes care of the psychological drama. She understood this so well, that in many places, she was just being still with tension, and let the music speak, rather than making meaningless "actings". During "D'amor sull'ali rosee" (yep, some long and slow music with "nothing happens onstage), she simply stood on the stage front and opened up her mouth and the magic happened. Her body drew the line of the "fourth wall" separating the real world onstage and the unreal world off stage (I had the words "real" and "unreal" at the correct positions), while in the meantime, her voice broke this "fourth wall" and involved everything into her world. During one performance, I was sitting in a side box, with the stage on my one hand side and the most auditorium on the other side. As much as I loved Anya/Leonora, at one point, my eyes turned away from her to the auditorium, feeling that I could literally SEE the body of her voice occupying the whole space and enfolding everyone, everything. Later in the scene, much buzz has made about her climbing the gate. How she desperately sang "Oh ciel! Sento mancarmi!" hanging on the gate was one of the dramatic high point. But then, the more challenging part for acting was getting OFF from the gate. It was heartbroken watching her getting down slowly with the monotone "Miserere" sung by chorus in the back, as if all hope were lost. And she didn't stop after getting off from the gate but kept until having her whole body down to the ground, only rose up again right before the second verse, which darker words are set in the music then those in the first verse, when her body got back the strength because of outrage.

I can keep going describing these small details that together built up the big picture. Then I may hardly finish it. So just let me stop here. I think I've made my point clear: this is the first rate performing art in every aspect. Brava.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Yige,
    You are great and fantastic and stunning !!
    Your Passion for Anna and her family is very exceptional.
    I admire you andI respect you.
    But please don't forget your most important thing in your life. Please keep going and also please find something what is the most important for your entire life.
    May be I am old and experienced a lot in my life.
    But your passion and job are incredible, indeed!!
    Love from Keiko



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