Friday, February 10, 2017


By James Karas

The Royal Opera House’s Il Trovatore is a war opera. Black and grey colours dominate. You will see tanks, machine guns, campers, smoke, wooden crosses, fires burning and, yes, passions raging. This is David Bösch’s modern-dress interpretation of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera. A bit of torture and war crimes can be gleaned but the final tableau will be a huge, fiery heart that could be interpreted as the triumph of love through death.

Bösch made his Royal Opera House debut with this production last July and it has been revived with Julia Burbach as the Revival Director.
Il Trovatore at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Photo: Clive Barda 
American tenor Gregory Kunde did a respectable job as the troubadour Manrico. He sang somewhat heroically but without passion. We expect him to be overwhelming in his heroism and expression of love for Leonora and he simply did not deliver it. His appearance did not help. His drab costume made him look like an unemployed warehouse worker and even a gypsy troubadour should strike a better pose than that.

Leonora, the woman who loved him to death does a much better job in the hands of Armenian soprano Lianna Haroutounian. Dressed in dramatic white amid the gloomy colours of the others, she sang with emotional conviction and dramatic effect.   

Leonora needs a great deal of strength and conviction because she is loved by two fierce warriors, Manrico and Count di Luna. The latter will not take “no” for an answer and he is ferocious in love and war. Dmitri Hvorostovsky was scheduled to take the role but he cancelled because of illness. Ukrainian baritone Vitaliy Bilyy made his Royal Opera House debut replacing Hvorostovsky. He was authoritative physically and vocally and gave a superb performance.
Il Trovatore at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Photo: Clive Barda 
Georgian mezzo-soprano Anita Rachvelishvili outdid everyone as the gypsy Azucena. “Stole the show” is the catchphrase that comes to mind but that would be unfair and untrue. She did not steal it – she earned it. She delivered an outstanding performance in an admittedly marvellous role and the audience just loved her.  Rachvelishvili has a marvellous, smoky voice that can spew venom and passion as she single-mindedly pursues vengeance. One enjoys every minute of her presence on stage.

Ukrainian bass Alexander Tsymbalyuk deserves praise for his performance in the relatively minor role of Ferrando. He is the fine officer who carries out orders and Tsymbalyuk sang with commendable sonority.

Patrick Bannwart designed the set and video projection with the intent of emphasizing the internecine conflict of the opposing parties, with considerable war machines in use. The soldiers may sing of fighting with swords for glory and plunder but the images we see on stage suggest something far more brutal. A captured soldier is senselessly brutalized and a noose is put around his neck and strung on the muzzle of a tank. This is no glorious war.

Il Trovatore is a highly approachable opera despite its somewhat turgid plot. It has some great melodies and between love duets and martial music it makes for opera the way most people imagine it to be. Bösch gives us a far more nuanced production and puts his imprimatur on the opera. That is what directors must do.

The Orchestra of the Royal House Opera and Royal Opera Chorus were conducted by Richard Farnes in an exceptional night at the opera.

Il Trovatore by Giuseppe Verdi, directed by David Bösch was performed at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden six times between January 16 and February 9, 2017.

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