IL TROVATORE by Giuseppe Verdi, directed by Charles Roubaud, conducted by Marco Guidarini (Canadian Opera Company). At the Four Seasons Centre (145 Queen West). October 2, 5, 10, 19, 25, 28 and 31 at 7:30 pm, matinees October 21 and 28 at 2 pm and October 13 at 4:30 pm. $12-$325. 416-363-8231. See listing. Rating: NNN
Verdi's Il Trovatore is a blood-and-thunder opera, filled with fiery passions and lyrical melodies.
You'll find lyricism in the Canadian Opera Company's season opener, conducted by Marco Guidarini, but the fire and drama? Not so much.
The convoluted plot involves a back story in which a gypsy is burned for bewitching the son of Count di Luna; her daughter, Azucena, steals the infant and supposedly burns him. In the present, the grown-up di Luna, brother to the stolen infant, vies with Azucena's son, Manrico, for the love of Leonora, who prefers Manrico. As if their rivalry in love weren't enough, they're on opposite sides of battling Spanish forces.
But the production's first half, given little drive by director Charles Roubaud, finds minimal chemistry in the love triangle. There's some tentative singing and relating, with Elza van den Heever's Leonora not gripping us as she should in her first passionate aria; Ramón Vargas as Manrico, despite a strong voice, is similarly uninvolving.
Happily, Russell Braun's di Luna is well defined from the moment he steps onstage. The man is obsessive, jealous, unable to concede defeat; at one point, planning to kidnap Leonora as she's about to become a nun, di Luna challenges God as his rival. Capturing the character's driven, uncompromising nature, Braun offers the opera's one consistent performance.
Di Luna marks Braun's debut in a Verdi opera, and though his voice may occasionally be small when set against a large orchestra and chorus, he captures di Luna's driven, uncompromising nature. Even di Luna's one tender aria as he thinks about Leonora has a fixated quality.
Despite the drama inherent in the triangle, the opera's linchpin is Azucena, caught between goading Manrico to avenge her mother's death and love for the son she's raised and saved from death. In her first scene, Elena Manistina should chill with her direful aria relating past tragedies, but the result is only tepid.
Things improve just before intermission in the confrontation between di Luna, Leonora and Manrico in front of the convent, and the production sparks in the second half, with more focused singing and a few gripping encounters.
Heever has some splendid moments in arias and ensembles, Vargas gives the audience what it wants in the thrilling tenor aria Di quella pira and Manistina takes command of the action just as Azucena should, both with a big voice and a striking stage presence.
What doesn't change is the director's dull blocking, Jean-Noël Lavesvre's set design (an unsuccessful blend of everyday bedroom furniture, high prison bars and huge landscape canvases) and Marc Delamézière's murky lighting. The lengthy, dead-air scene changes necessitated by the set design hobble any forward drive the opera might have built up.