Trovatore isn’t one of my favourite operas, I’m overworked and skint, but I picked up a cheap Upper Slips ticket for it on the strength of Stephanie Blythe in her (ROH?) debut as Azucena. I thought her turn as Ulrica was the best thing in last year’s Ballo, and she did not disappoint this time, being the best thing in Trovatore. Stunning – probably my favourite female opera singer at the moment. (I did wonder for a second if she was my overall favourite female singer at the moment, but it’s not really possible to make a sensible comparison between Blythe and Bjork). Anyway, huge voice, melted chocolate tone, and total control and accuracy. Love it.
Having said that, Blythe did have some stiff competition from Marcelo Alvarez’s Manrico – yes, a tenor, no less! I have been a little underwhelmed hearing bits of his recordings that people have played me, but hearing him live was another thing altogether; he sounded great, especially in ‘Ah si ben mio’ and ‘Di quella pira’. I cannot comment on how he looked or acted, because he spent almost the entire time in the quarter of the stage I couldn’t see – but perhaps this is not necessarily a bad thing? Anyway, I could see his left arm, which he stuck out quite a lot. Speaking of staging, there didn’t seem to be a great amount of direction to the characters’ movement. Azucena mostly sat still on a chair (although she did stand up occasionally and lie down on the floor next to her chair at one point), and the Count (Anthony Michaels-Moore) stomped around a bit but mostly did stand-and-deliver. I didn’t particularly enjoy his singing; it had some good moments, but his voice sounded a bit muffled and he didn’t seem to have the breath control required for the longer phrases. I also found Catherine Nagelstad (Leonora) a little patchy, generally towards the top, although there were some really lovely sections too.
Having previously seen the DVD of this production (different cast), I was disappointed that they’d cut the bit of lots of soldiers in dodgy black leather gear doing a funny and very camp dance, to replace it with a bit of perfectly adequate (but much less fun) fencing practice. The sets were attractive, particularly the railway station (next door to the nunnery). The cell where they were keeping Manrico was not very convincing, mostly because there was enough space between the bars to drive a truck (was it designed to hold Pavarotti?), but this is a small criticism. I liked the huge glowing kilns in the gypsy camp, too, and the table full of tankards and stuff to be flung to the floor when anyone got pissed off.
The orchestra were sounding very good and very tight under Nicola Luisotti, although I clearly didn’t appreciate them/him as much as one woman I overheard later, near the stage door, telling Luisotti that she “couldn’t take her eyes off him the whole night”. Top marks this time to the percussion section, for such a huge amount of clanging and crashing in the gypsies’ chorus.