Il Trovatore by Giuseppe Verdi
Libretto by Salvatore Cammarano
McCaw Hall, Seattle Center
January 12, 20189
Review by Sharon Cumberland
Seattle Opera’s Il Trovatore (The Troubadour) is a welcome start to the new year. In spite of it’s complicated and improbable story, the music is sublime. Any company that tackles this epic tale of devotion and betrayal—with its challenging requirements for chorus, soloists and orchestra—is already in the winner’s circle. And any audience who gets to see this rarely performed Verdi masterpiece is very lucky indeed.
A quick survey of Opera America’s listing of Verdi operas performedin 2017 (the latest year full data is available) reveals that only…well…zero performances of Il Trovatore were given in the US and Canada. There were plenty of Aidas, La Traviatas, Rigolettos and Falstaffs, along with the occasional Requiems, Macbeths, Nabuccos and Un Ballo in Mascheras—so Verdi is richly represented in opera repertoires. But Il Trovatore is so difficult for all four principal singers that companies have to await the magical combination of talents—and usually two singers for every role—in order to pull it off.
The tenor’s big aria, “Di Quella Pira,” is ranked number six on a website called “The Top 10 Horrifyingly Difficult Opera Arias.” The baritone and the mezzo soprano have equally over-the-top challenges driven by the wildly dramatic libretto in which everyone is in passionate love, on the brink of horrible revelations, and facing immanent death. And one of the soprano’s big moments, “D’amor sull’ali rosee,” is six minutes of the most heartrendingly beautiful and challenging pieces Verdi ever wrote. You can go on you tube and hear every famous soprano who ever lived in the electronic age sing it, but nothing compares to hearing it in the opera house. I was deeply moved to hear the young Leah Crocetto sing it on opening night, and am eager to return to McCaw Hall to hear Angela Mead’s performance.
The Seattle Opera stage was somewhat underlit for me—it’s a dark opera, but does it have to be visually dark? I was sitting in a great seat but still had some trouble seeing the singers clearly through the shadows cast over their faces. I was also a bit distracted by the fantasy-style set and costumes, in which the armies have no historical anchor other than references to “endless wars” in several cultures (including our own via touches of camo fabric in conquistador-type costumes). Il Trovatore is set in Arragon—and I think a Spanish setting would act as a sufficient metaphor to remind us of the tragedy of our own endless war, though I admit that the post-modern ideas behind Candace Frank’s costumes were clever. Still, this opera, well sung, could be done in burlap bags and still pack the musical wallop it’s famous for. This is an opera well worth seeing—since you may not have another chance in coming years. Il Trovatore is performed at McCaw Hall through January 26th. KING FM will broadcast the cast led by Angela Mead oon February 2nd at 8:00 PM.