At one moment during the opening night of Il Trovatore there was as much noise coming from the audience as from the stage. In Act Three Manrico roused his band of gypsy fighters to rescue his mother from execution and the West Australian Opera male chorus flooded His Majesty’s Theatre with hot-blooded singing. The audience reacted with an equally zealous shout of approval.
The pursuit of vengeance drives Verdi’s Il Trovatore relentlessly. We are introduced to the theme in the first scene as soldiers are spooked by the story of a gypsy woman burned to death who was avenged when her daughter tossed the Count di Luna’s brother into the fire. The story gets more sordid as we hear the daughter Azucena’s version: in her distress Azucena accidently threw her own baby into the fire. She brought up Manrico as her son instead and he promises to avenge her. Enter Leonora, the love interest of both Manrico and the Count di Luna, and the opera begins to really explode with emotions.
|Azucena (Elizabeth Campbell) demands revenge from|
Manrico (Rosario La Spina)
Elke Neidhardt's 2007 production (revived by Matthew Barclay) gives political clout to the action by relocating it from 15th century Spain to the Spanish Civil War of the 1930’s. Set designer Michael Scott-Mitchell’s penchant for the spectacular is evident in gallon drums of real fire, an onstage army vehicle and in the final act an elevated prison cage flooded with glaring fluorescent light (Nick Schlieper) as a stark symbol of the entrapment resulting from vengeance.
The famous Anvil Chorus is set in the aftermath of a battle scene and sung by the soldiers rather than the gypsies as they load bodies into the vehicle and assault the gypsy women. There are no anvils but the revenge theme is hammered in deeply.
|Soldiers ravage the gypsy women during the Anvil Chorus|
Neidhardt also highlights the humour: the love struck Leonora is teased playfully by Ines and newly enlisted soldiers enact ‘the full monty’ as they exchange their civvies for army uniform.
|Soldier's enact 'the full monty'|
American soprano Jennifer Rowley sang Leonora’s impossibly long phrases with unhurried beauty, revealing a glorious top end as she evolved from sensual girl to grimly resolute lover. She was well-matched by Rosario La Spina who seems to grow ever more resplendent. His Manrico was every inch the troubadour and he navigated the extremes of ‘Ah si, ben mio’ and ‘Di quella pira’ as though the role were written for him.
|La Spina sings 'Ah si, ben mio' to Leonora (Jennifer Rowley)|
as Ines (Fiona Campbell) watches.
James Clayton’s whole-hearted commitment painted a villainous Count di Luna even while his voice lacked the sonority of a Verdi baritone. Elizabeth Campbell was a tormented Azucena, exploiting the conflicting roles of loving mother and vengeful daughter. Fiona Campbell was an expressive Ines and David Parkin a stoic Ferrando.
The company’s artistic director Joseph Colaneri led the WA Symphony Orchestra in a vivid account of Verdi’s score always closely connected to the singers. Colaneri and head of chorus Joseph Nolan have been a revitalising combination and it is unfortunate this is the last season with the company for both of them. It is worth a ticket to Il Trovatore to witness the vocal and instrumental freshness they bring to this production. WA Opera must consider how to better retain artists of this talent.
This review copyright The West Australian 2014.