Monday, 9 May 2016

Verdi - Il Trovatore (Opéra National de Paris, 2016)

Giuseppe Verdi - Il Trovatore 

L'Opéra National de Paris, 2016

Daniele Callegari, Àlex Ollé, Ludovic Tézier, Hui He, Ekaterina Semenchuk, Marcelo Álvarez, Roberto Tagliavini, Marion Lebègue, Oleksiy Palchykov, Constantin Ghircau, Cyrille Lovighi

L'Opéra National de Paris, Bastille - February 2016

When it comes to early Verdi operas it's often the case that the plot doesn't matter quite as much as the passion in which it is presented. There's a balance to be found of course between quite how far to push those passions and where to push them, but when it all comes together the effect is unlike what any other opera composer can achieve. Il Trovatore is one of the most difficult to balance drama and passion, but between the production and the singing, Àlex Ollé's 2016 Paris production proves to be one of the better attempts to harness and unleash the work's unquestionable power.

Àlex Ollé's production goes for a simple set of adaptable black monoliths that can be used for multipurpose application. Looking not unlike the Berlin Holocaust memorial, the pillars rise into and out of the ground at variable heights to represent steps, seats, high towers and trees, flattening when required into gravestones. Disappearing altogether, they also create doorways to hell from which ghostly figures emerge as Azucena relates the story of the burning of her mother for witchcraft.

There's no imposition of any concept here, the abstract designs rather being used simply to serve the playing of the drama while having a strong visual sensibility at the same time. Primarily however, the set design works in conjunction with the lighting to establish a distinctive mood. The dominant mood in Il Trovatore is a sombre one of dark and dire portents and there doesn't appear to be a great deal of variegation within that. Using mirrors and shifts of lighting however, the infinitely configurable set proves surprisingly adaptable to subtle changes of a measured tone that never lets it all spill over into hysterical melodrama.

Despite its propensity towards going over the top with a notoriously wild plot of misfortune and chance, and with highly-charged music to match, Il Trovatore however is itself not terribly dramatic. The characters tend to stand around and relate events in a story to others, emoting and declaiming quite a bit. Ollé's production doesn't really enliven this much or particularly add anything much in the way of character development. I'm not sure that having the Conte di Luna and his troops dressed in Nazi-like uniforms really helps either. Nor does Daniele Callegari's conducting of the Paris orchestra, although the musical performance is good - it just lacks the kind of Verdean fire you might like to find there.

By way of recompense however, the Paris Opera have assembled an excellent cast here. It's not perfect by any means - it's hard to get a uniformly great Verdi cast together - but everyone throws everything into the performances and they balance each other out well, if not always to the expected strengths of Il Trovatore. It's Ludovic Tézier's Conte di Luna and Ekaterina Semenchuk's Azucena who contribute most towards that tone of darkness and danger. Tézier is impressive and wonderfully lyrical in a way that gives the Count a suavely evil character. His breath control and ability to sustain his notes is not only technically impressive, it adds to that character. Semenchuk is a fire-breathing Azucena, again demonstrating marvellous control with a rich timbre.

Without underestimating the challenges of the tenor and soprano roles, Marcelo Álvarez and Hui He aren't quite as note perfect and show the strain of singing these roles a little more, but only a little. Hui He's lovely fullness of voice gives intensity to the role of Leonora, while Álvarez puts more effort into his acting performance than is usually the case, and it makes all the difference. Whether all the elements were perfect or not however, the stage direction that weighs and balances the tricky dynamic of Il Trovatore was clearly effective, with an incredible finale that gives you shivers, as it rightly should. Verdi's unforgettable melodies, some fine singing and an impact like that is all you want from Il Trovatore, and you get it here in Paris.

Links: L'Opéra National de Paris