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feszt nap 15 trubadur gms 1Review of Verdi's Il trovatore. The performance at the Ice Hall of Miskolc was part of the series of the Miskolc Opera Festival called ’Opera for thousands’. The name does not only refer to the popularity of the works performed, but also to the fact, that within this nice initiative there is one free performance every year. Needless to say, that because of this, and thanks to Verdi’s opera, of course, on the evening of June 19 the huge auditorium of the Ice Hall was full.

In connection with the Festival I have already written about the problems of opera performances held in sports halls: because of using microphones it is difficult to judge the real volume of the singers’ voices. However, considering the circumstances, and thanks to the excellent job of the sound engineers, this time we got an enjoyable performance: the sounds were without any distortion (and the echo - because the house was full - could be kept to a minimum).

This opera, written by Verdi in his so-called ’middle period’, being one of the most popular and most often performed operas worldwide, and one of the best pieces of the Romantic era, is not easy to stage. 

On the one hand, at least four (or rather, five, if we include Ferrando’s part, too) protagonists are needed, all of whom are experts of the Italian bel canto school, and possibly all are ’vocal wonders’ – because singing these parts of Verdi’s opera on a high level is the culmination of performing arts of the 19th century. Without the necessary vocal qualities, staging this work successfully is hopeless.     

On the other hand, it is not easy to stage the story itself, either. There is the libretto criticized so often, and it does make it difficult sometimes to follow the story (’whose mother is she and who is the son of whom?’ - we could ask with irony). At the same time the plot is filled with action, which has the potential to use several dramaturgic solutions.

Verdi: Il trovatoreVerdi: Il trovatoreThe question is whether it is worth staging this work in a ’traditional’, realistic way. The essence of this piece is to present fundamental human passions, emotions and temper pushed to an extreme, such as revenge, love or self-sacrifice; these are the actual driving forces of the action in this work. The already quite absurd story and the locations where it takes place, rather mean only the framework, and this is exactly why this work provides a broad spectrum of conceptions and means for the stage-director to choose from. Of course, the stage-director should let the voices predominate, and leave them to interpretate the emotions, the storming passions, which is a basic condition in the case of Il trovatore. If this is done, then, in my opinion, traditional and modern (even anachronic, regarding the story) stage-directions can all be good. Presenting a stage-setting with an approach of historical accuracy (the story takes place in the 15th century, in Spain) is as valid as a stage-direction placing the action into another century, or focusing on its symbolic nature by presenting an empty stage (which has also happened before).

The stage-director of the present performance, Judit Galgóczy is among those, who think about the work they stage. If the result of this is a novel interpretation that adds something extra to the piece, and not misinterpret it, then there is no problem. And there was no problem: the present performance was characterized by a ’daring’ stage-direction interpreting the work deeply, though pretty subjectively. The scenery being highly different from the traditional Il trovatore stage-setting probably shocked those with a more conservative taste, but surely not too many, otherwise (music and singers or not) there would not have been a long standing ovation after the end of the performance. For this modern, rethought performance was not forcibly modern, the stage-director had something to say to us. This Il trovatore has a quite bitter and grievous interpretation: we are looking back from today on the series of tragedies happening in the opera, in the face of the fact, that these tragedies - in one way or another - have been repeated many times since then. We have learned nothing, our predatory instincts always override wisdom, knowledge, and it is almost unbearable.

It is unbearable for Leonora, too, who is now at a mental hospital - the first part of the performance takes place here. In fact the actual plot of Act I is preceded by a ’play-within-the-play’. The characters, soloists and choir members are coming on the stage as if they were also arriving to a theatrical performance. On the left and on the right side of the stage there are cloakrooms, in the middle we can see the hall and the cafeteria of the imagined theatre, the ’spectators’ are waiting here for the imaginary performance, talking and phoning. We can already feel the wind of violence: the pseudo-spectators walking away too far from the hall are firmly told to go back by armed soldiers. 

Verdi: Il trovatoreVerdi: Il trovatoreHowever, the events in the mental hospital are mixed with other happenings that makes the first and the second act a bit chaotic. We listen to the old soldier, Ferrando’s narration, who is in a wheelchair, then Leonora’s aria, who has gone mad from love (or from something else, too?) and her scene with Inez, who, by the way - like Ferrando, and contrary to the libretto - can often be seen on the stage. Leonora herself is also a patient at the mental hospital (maybe it is not she who is mad, but the world around her). In the middle of the stage Inez performs some kind of a magic ritual. She tries to dispel evil, but in vain: she also attempts to wipe off the number 666 painted on the wall but to no avail. Count Luna and Manrico find Leonora here and begin to duel. People arrive wearing protective clothing, and start to disinfect the beds and the rooms: to cleanse them from evil. (I add that meanwhile Azucena, the gypsy woman appears, too, and is captured, mocked, and humiliated - this ’disinfection’ can also bring other associations to our mind.) The nuns appear in the convent in the same space, without a change in the stage-setting. Then ghosts arrive with the books of wisdom in their hands, but in vain: the actual characters remain insensitive to these, and the tragedy proceeds inexorably to the conclusion.   

The stage-setting of the third, and especially, of the fourth act is simpler, which also follows from the libretto, of course: by this time there are fewer characters on the stage, and rather the more intimate solo scenes and duets are dominant.

Judit Galgóczy places great emphasis on picturing the relationships between the persons: the continuous interaction between Manrico and Leonora during the tenor’s ’Di quella pira’ was a good example of this. Stage-directors often make a one-man show from this scene, using Leonora only as a dummy.

The movements and gestures of the performers were expressive, and were more or less devoid of stereotypes.  

So, the message of the stage-direction is clear: a desperate retrospection on this tragic story from hundreds of years perspective (if we look at the time of the plot), but at least from a hundred and fifty years perspective (if we consider the born of the opera), only to find sadly that ’nothing has changed’. However, I am ambivalent to the implementation. Because the already mentioned ’clear message’ is not so clear after all, at least not for the first time. I was lucky to get an insight into the rehearsals and the dress rehearsal, but I am not sure, that the interpretation outlined above is obvious for anyone seeing the performance for the first time. I am not sure that every hint - like the otherwordly things with the books of knowledge, or Inez performing the magic ritual etc. - are all immediately comprehensible (and there remained open questions for me, too). Maybe they should have been given to us in smaller dosages. But there are too many things happening on the stage: male nurses are fussing around, children are running round, men are walking in white suits, nuns are processing at the back, while the actual actions are also going on, with Leonora, Manrico, Count Luna. I am reluctant to use this cliché, but here it fits well enough: ’less would have been more’. On the whole I think the stage-direction is imaginative and thought-provoking, but I would recommend it less wholeheartedly for those, who see Il trovatore for the first time and just get acquainted with it. And who will be even more puzzled by the subtitles, because there are castles, horses, troubadours in the story, after all… 

The stage-setting is quite simple, but imaginative (costumes and settings: Katalin Juhász). We see huge, rectangular gates of different sizes, which are mobile, and can be pushed into and under each other. By this, smaller spaces can be sectioned from the space of the stage, which makes the stage-setting varied. The basic colour of the gates is dark grey, with white spots on it; it reminded me of the smoke of a battlefield. At other times they are lit by purple and golden lights, which is an impressive sight. Most of the characters wear modern, everyday costumes, sometimes in a surreal form, like in the case of the ghost-men entering in white dresses and wearing veils. (By the way, Judit Galgóczy has already staged this opera earlier, and in that completely different Turandot-direction she also worked together with Katalin Juhász.)     

Verdi: Il trovatoreVerdi: Il trovatoreThe elemental power of Verdi’s music, the intensity of the drama overrides the ponderosity of the libretto, giving a fine opportunity for the singers and the orchestra to express a wide spectrum of emotions. Regarding its musical language, Il trovatore, which contains several standard forms, is usually regarded a step backwards as compared to Rigoletto, however, the composer brings these standard forms to perfection in Il trovatore. (Then gradually transforms them in the next decades, to virtually cut them out for good in his last two operas: Otello and Falstaff.) The archetypes of the characters of the 19th century romantic operas all appear here: the amorous soprano, the heroic tenor and the evil baritone stepping between them. However, in Il trovatore, besides them there is another protagonist, what’s more, she is the actual protagonist: Azucena. (First Verdi wanted to give the title ’Azucena’ for his opera.)   

The Mexican tenor, Hector Lopez Mendoza, who played the role of Manrico, was already known to the public of Miskolc, because last year he was an excellent Radames in the performance of Aida in the Ice Hall. The good-looking, masculine young tenor sang his difficult part with great confidence, which part is the touchstone, the greatest challenge of bel canto singing for spinto and dramatic tenors. It requires a deep knowledge of style, secure top notes and power, which, however, should be combined with lyricism. Mendoza has all these qualities. He sang the role from the beginning to the end with great passion, with unbelievable ease, with no sign of tiredness, though his dark tenor voice seemed a bit veiled, and was not bright enough in the upper range. Manrico’s aria in the third act (’Ah, sì ben mio’) was characterized by the dichotomy of heroic tone and delicate lyricism. Then came the favourite of the audience, the famous ’Di quella pira’, which was also done well. (It was transposed down a half tone, thus Mendoza finished the aria on a high B instead of a high C; however, most tenors do the same in live performances.)

Leonora was interpreted by our excellent soprano Gabriella Létay Kiss. Her lyrical soprano voice was combined with the necessary sense of drama. She sang the role of the amorous, self-sacrifying woman beautifully, with soft shadings, smartly, emotionally, but without any sentimentality. Her beautifully arched, nice legatos became a bit fragmented in her aria in Act 4 (’D'amor sull'ali rosee’), where she also omitted the high C (sang it one octave lower, to be more precise). I only noticed then, that Gabriella Létay Kiss was not in perfect health this evening; it is typical of her greatness that we could hardly notice it. Apart from the mentioned notes, her voice was soaring, she gave herself up to singing, her performance was very good.

Verdi regarded Azucena as the most important and most interesting character of the opera. (This was the first great mezzo-soprano role in his operas, which was followed later by Ulrica, Eboli and Amneris.) This evening Azucena was sung by Andrea Ulbrich, who is one of the best interpreters of this role worldwide. She has already played the figure of Azucena several times: besides the Hungarian State Opera House, she also sang it at the Arena di Verona, among others. Again, she did not disappoint us: she sang with rich colours, with nuance, and - compared to most mezzo-sopranos - with a lighter tone, pleasing the audience not only with her beautifully ringing deep notes, but with fine high notes, too. Thanks to her differentiated interpretation her Azucena did not rave with fury all along (one can often see that): she represented genuinly the woman’s pain, vindictiveness and maternal feelings both vocally and as an actress. 

Verdi: Il trovatoreVerdi: Il trovatoreJust as Manrico is one of the greatest Verdi tenor roles, Count Luna is one of the greatest Verdi baritone roles. The Count is not a one-dimensional figure, either: he has an affection for Leonora, and only unrequited love and picque make him furious and vindictive. The young, talented Romanian baritone, Alexandru Agache interpreted the role of the jealous, vengeful Luna manly, with power. However, he was not always singing on-key, and for me his voice is too light; regarding its colour it did not really vary from the dark tenor of Mendoza singing Manrico. (His voice ’opens upwards’ anyway, I think he could become a tenor.)

In the relatively minor role of Ferrando we heard László Szvétek, for whom singing this part was not a problem at all. Despite the fact that his only aria in Act I (’Di due figli vivea’) is very difficult. It is ornamented with lots of coloraturas, which is unusal among Verdi’s bass roles; for this reason, in live performances we often hear this part sung roughly, innaccurately. This time it was different, László Szvétek sang precisely, with confidence, his stage presence was strong. (By the way, in the present stage-direction he shot Manrico at the end of the opera…) 

Though appearing on the stage in the minor role of Inez, the talented, young soprano, Nadin Haris could prove that in the future she may become worthy of singing major roles, as well.  

The orchestra conducted by Gergely Kesselyák made a good performance. The strict rhyhtms of Verdi’s score were usually precise. (A ’loose’ orchestral performance, which, unfortunately, can often be heard, completely ruins Verdi’s ingenious, smart and original music). Gergely Kesselyák was paying attention to both the orchestra and the singers all along, he was conducting animatedly, passionately, vigorously, emphasising the musical contrasts (the ’Gypsy chorus’, for example, sounded with excuberant energy). The orchestra, however, could not always follow his fast tempi and tempo changes, which was probably due to the fact, that this evening we heard two orchestras playing together, and they have not yet got used to each other: the Miskolc Symphony Orchestra and the Miskolc National Theatre Orchestra. 

The inaccuracies of the orchestra was not very disturbing, but the Choir of the Hungarian State Opera House, or rather, the male choir was reacting very sluggishly to the tempi of the conductor, they were always late. (On the other hand, the female choir was singing accurately).

It was a memorable performance, which I would be happy to see again. It will be good to bill it at Erkel Theatre, but the best would be to offer in addition a ’traditional’ Il trovatore performance, too, for those who would like their children to become acquainted with the piece or those who themselves are just getting to know it.

 

Balázs Csák
(www.operaportal.hu)

*

Giuseppe Verdi:


IL TROVATORE

Opera in three acts, in Italian

 

Performance of the Hungarian State Opera House.

Libretto: Salvatore Cammarano and Leone Emanuele Bardare, based on the play by Antonio García Gutiérrez

Set and costume design: Katalin Juhász
Choreography: Attila Kozma
Sound engineer: Moritz Bergfeld
Sound system: Delta Classic

Conducted by: Gergely Kesselyák
Directed by: Judit Galgóczy

 

Cast:


Count Luna: Alexandru Aghenie
Leonora: Gabriella Létay Kiss
Inez: Nadin Haris
Manrico: Hector Lopez Mendoza
Azucena: Andrea Ulbrich
Ferrando: László Szvétek
Ruiz: Gergely Ujvári

Miskolc Symphony Orchestra

Miskolc National Theatre Orchestra 

 

 

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