S&H Opera review

VERDI Il Trovatore ENO 9.4.2001 (AW)
Count of Luna: David Kempster Leonora: Sandra Ford Azucena: Sally Burgess Manrico: Julian Gavin Ferrando: Clive Bayley, Iain Paterson (from May 8) Inez: Claire Weston Ruiz: Richard Roberts Conductor : Paul Daniel, Alex Ingram (from May 5)

Il Trovatore is a difficult and gloomy work, more popular half a century ago when Rig, Trav & Trov were Verdi's best known operas. It was composed over a two-year period and first performed in 1853. In the background is the 1848 Revolution, which briefly succeeded, and raised hopes of finally liberating Italy from foreign domination to create a unified state. The subsequent backlash and reversals seemed to put an end to the revolutionary achievements.

The dreams of a free, united Italy had been poisoned for many people, including Giuseppe Verdi. The heroine of his opera, Leonora, perishes through poison. All the major characters die, except the representative of the old order, the Count of Luna, who had unwittingly committed fratricide. In a sense this is a depressed work. There is a lot of exposition, but a lack of the dynamism which derives from developing interactions between characters. The core of Il Trovatore is a heart of darkness. The beacons of the many deservedly popular, but in way isolated, arias fail to bring sufficient light to this work. It exposes mercilessly the singers, who should create spotlights for themselves.

After the memorable, imaginative risk-taking of ENO's Italian season : Boheme, Berio: Folk Songs. Rota: La Strada. Dallapiccola: The Prisoner , Verdi Requiem, Nabucco, Trittico,  this proscenium arch production, under the joint direction of the company's current General Director, Nicholas Payne, and Music Director, Paul Daniel, is a disappointment. Oh for a return of the Lazaridis scaffolding - or maybe better a scaffold for this aberration!

The staging is banal and fails to engage intellectually or emotionally or to create a coherent view for a contemporary audience. This production seems to have come out of a stagnant pool of dead conventions with meaningless, even ludicrous, stock gestures choking any life out the opera. There were not many musical sparks emanating from the singers. Clive Bayley's narration of the pre-history got it off to a good start, but the big four (Trovatore famously needs the four finest singers in the world!) Sandra Ford (Leonora), Sally Burgess (Azucena)[ Sally Burgess (photo Bill Rafferty)], David Kempster (Count of Luna) and Julian Gavin as Manrico were really no more than adequate. The orchestra under Paul Daniel was fiery and forceful but unsubtle, as was the chorus, which was made to stand around like so many dead ducks in its different guises and sung accordingly.

We have come to expect something more vital and thoughtful from ENO productions and later in the week a revival of The Barber of Seville reassured us that they are capable of it.

Alexa Woolf

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