REVIEW WA Opera’s Il Trovatore by Rosalind Appleby

A Review of WA Opera’s Il Trovatore
Reviewed by Rosalind Appleby
on the 31st October 2014
For the West Australian

At one moment during the opening night of Il Trovatore there was as much noise coming from the audience as from the stage. In Act Three, Manrico roused his band of gypsy fighters to rescue his mother from execution and the WA Opera male chorus flooded His Majesty’s Theatre with hot-blooded singing. The audience reacted with an equally zealous shout of approval.

The pursuit of vengeance drives Verdi’s Il Trovatore relentlessly. We are introduced to the theme in the first scene as soldiers are spooked by the story of a gypsy woman burnt to death, whose daughter Azucena seeks revenge by stealing the Count di Luna’s brother to toss him into the fire. The story gets more sordid and confusing as we hear Azucena’s version: in her distress she accidentally threw her own baby into the fire and so secretly brings up the other boy as her own son, Manrico, the troubadour.

Years later, enter Leonora, the love interest of both Manrico and the Count di Luna, and the opera begins to really explode with emotions.

Elke Neidhardt’s 2002 production (revived by Matthew Barclay) gives political clout to the action by relocating it from 15th century Spain to the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s. Set designer Michael Scott-Mitchell’s penchant for the spectacular is evident in 44-gallon drums of fire, an onstage army vehicle and, in the final act, an elevated prison cage flooded with glaring fluorescent light (from designer Nick Schlieper) as a stark symbol of the entrapment resulting from vengeance.

The famous Anvil Chorus is set in the aftermath of a battle scene and sung by the soldiers rather than the gypsies as they load bodies into the vehicle and assault the gypsy women. There are no anvils but the revenge theme is hammered in deeply.

Neidhardt also highlights the humour: the love-struck Leonora is teased playfully by her friend Ines and newly enlisted soldiers enact “the full monty” as they exchange their civvies for army uniform.

American soprano Jennifer Rowley sang Leonora’s impossibly long phrases with unhurried beauty, revealing a glorious top end as she evolved from sensual girl to grimly resolute lover.

She was well-matched by Rosario La Spina, who seems to grow ever more resplendent. His Manrico was every inch the troubadour and he navigated the extremes of Ah Si, Ben Mio and Di Quella Pira as though the role were written for him.

James Clayton’s wholehearted commitment painted a villainous Count di Luna even while his voice lacked the sonority of a Verdi baritone. Elizabeth Campbell was a tormented Azucena, exploiting the conflicting roles of loving mother and vengeful daughter. Fiona Campbell was an expressive Ines and David Parkin a stoic Ferrando.

The company’s artistic director Joseph Colaneri led the WA Symphony Orchestra in a vivid account of Verdi’s score, always closely connected to the singers. Colaneri and head of chorus Joseph Nolan have been a revitalising combination and it is unfortunate this is the last season with the company for both of them.

It is worth a ticket to Il Trovatore to witness the vocal and instrumental freshness they bring to the production. WA Opera must consider how to better retain artists of this talent.

Il Trovatore continues tomorrow night and on Tuesday, Thursday and November 8.