World-class singers in Verdi’s “Il Trovatore” from Covent Garden  

Within twenty-four months, from March 1851, three operas by Guiseeppe Verdi, each amongst the greatest and most popular ever composed premiered – “Rigoletto” on March 11th, 1851 in Venice; “Il Trovatore” on January 19th, 1853, in Rome, and “La Traviata”, in Venice, on March 6th, 1853. And “Trovatore” was a tumultuous hit – so great was the applause that the last Act was encored in its entirety.

To quote Denis Forman:- “Trovatore immediately moved up to the top of the Italian repertory and has remained there ever since”; and there could be no greater accolade, in my eyes, than the fact that the immortal Marx Brothers wove their own magical brand of mayhem around a performance of “Trovatore” in their film, “A Night at the Opera”.

While ever since his third opera, “Nabucco”, Verdi had achieved fame as a composer, it was this trio of stage works, his 17th, 18th and 19th,  respectively, that set him on the road to operatic superstardom which made him an Italian national treasure.

“Il Trovatore” demands powerful soloists – Caruso famously proclaimed that all you needed for it was the four greatest singers in the world. In this regard, Forman writes:- “Warning: “Trovatore” demands four top-class singers. With three it gets by. With two or less it can be a pain”.

Well, patrons need have no worries for this production. Dmitri Hvorostovsky (one of the great Baritones) and Mezzo-soprano, Anita Rachvelishvili, who sings Azucena, has already been heard to thrilling effect – she is one of the finest new voices I’ve heard in recent years. The American duo, the rich-toned soprano, Lianna Haroutounian as ‘Leonora, and Gregory Kunde (with his marvellous high notes), are superb singers. (Haroutounian was magnificent in Verdi’s “Les Vepres Siciliennes” from Covent Garden two years ago).

Opera is famous for complicated plots, but “Il Trovatore” is something else! The Count di Luna(Snr.) had a gypsy burned at the stake. Her daughter, Azucena, thirsting for revenge, burns the Count’s son – or so she thought! It was her own son she had killed and not realising it, she raises the Count’s son as her own – the tenor, Manrico. So, the Count (Jnr.) and Manrico don’t know they’re brothers until it’s too late. And now, this opera of love, hate, vengeance begins.

The ‘brothers who don’t know they’re brothers’ are in love with Soprano, Leonora. It’s a no-holds-barred work all the way through with much full-blooded singing and some of Verdi’s loveliest music. Highlights are:- two marvellous and famous choruses, the ‘Anvil’ and the ‘Gypsy’, the haunting baritone aria, ‘Il Balen’, (‘The Tempest of the Heart’), the rousing tenor aria, ‘Di Quella Pira’ (with it’s thrilling High C)’, the magical Tenor-Mezzo duet, ‘Ai Nostri Monti’ (much-loved and performed as ‘Home to our Mountains’), the Tenor-Soprano duet, ‘ Miserere’ and, one of the most beautiful of all soprano arias, ‘D’amor sull’ali rosee’. And there’s much more …

“Il Trovatore” is opera at its most operatic, and, with the expected “four greatest singers” in this production, it should be wonderful – maybe as good as the memorable screening of “The Tempest” we had here last week.

Verdi’s “Il Trovatore can be seen on Tues, Jan 31st at 7.15pm.

By Jim Ryan