Monday, March 9, 2009

Il Trovatore at the Met

I listened with great pleasure to the Met's matinee broadcast of Il Trovatore two weeks ago. The production is a new one on loan from the Lyric. They've pushed the setting up to the 19th century; the feeling apparently was that the internal turmoil of late-medieval Spain is too obscure to make effective drama for an American audience and that the post-Napoleonic conflicts depicted by Goya would permit a more effective staging. While American audiences surely lack a thorough-going knowledge of the interal struggles that splintered Spain during the Reconquista, I doubt they possess a meaningfully greater grasp of the country's nineteenth-century civil wars.

The production set apparently featured large turntable-mounted facades and painted Goya-esque backdrops. The gimmick factor may just be the times (this season's fine Eugene Onegin production featured almost no scenary or props), but it may also have something to do with the Met's recent Trovatore-related mishaps. Several sources described the house's 1987 and 2000 productions as "disasters." This Trovatore did well in Chicago, and Gelb may have felt a solid combination of past results and gimmicks on a popular repertory piece was needed to exorcise the previous bad memories.

The matinee performance went quite well, at least aurally. The hilariously inept chicanery being perpetrated with La Sonnambula vindicate my skepticism of updated stagings, so I won't speak to what I didn't see. But I did have one quibble with the performance: Ferrando. Cound di Luna's chief henchman, his most memorable lines come in the first few minutes, with abbietta zingara, the background story to the opera's plot. I don't know whether Kwangchul Youn just doesn't have the voice for the piece or whether Gianandrea Noseda had the orchestra playing too loudly, but the pit drowned out the bass at several key points. Ferrando's voice should carry over the orchestra on the series of eighth notes at the end of each stanza (e.g. "la rea, la rea, discacciano ch'entrarvioso"), and it just wasn't there. I will continue to prefer my 1991 Met recording with James Morris as Ferrando and Placido Domingo in the titlel role.

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