musical america, June 28, 2013
Verdi: Il trovatore, Bayerische Staatsoper, 27. Juni 2013
Kaufmann Sings Manrico
MUNICH — It helps when two of Caruso’s “four greatest singers” live in your back yard, the more so when they act as well as they sound and exude palpable mutual rapport. So the Bavarian State Opera enjoyed a leg-up in mounting anew Verdi’s Il trovatore to open its 138-year-old Munich Opera Festival yesterday (June 27) — one of 17 operas by birthday boys Verdi and Wagner to be given here in the next 35 days. (Take that, Salzburg!)

But leave it to Nikolaus Bachler — gifted narrator, sometime actor, and guiding light at this, Germany’s richest and busiest opera company — to OK a staging scheme that substitutes Age of Steam vaudeville and farce for 15th-century Aragón and Vascongadas melodrama, black-on-black sets and glaring white-neon slashes for Latin color, hokey rootless stand-ins for impassioned characters.

French régisseur Olivier Py “focuses on the darkness, nightmare and horror of the story” (duh), making use of a rotating four-level unit set, with add-ons and modular subtractions as events progress. Engaging for a while, the unit unavoidably out-twirls its welcome, and by Parts III and IV, bereft of sufficient new dramaturgical thought, it is largely shunted aside. Sooner than that, however, Py’s translocation of the beings painted by Verdi and librettist Salvadore Cammarano thwarts traction and suspense. Ferrando’s story-setting — the sleeping babies, the gypsy hag, and all that — plays on a vaudeville stage, within the stage, to men in gray suits and ties. After an Anvil Chorus peppered by hammerings on a steam locomotive, all depart, leaving Azucena to wail her own backgrounder, Stride la vampa!, with no takers. Py conspicuously loses his focus just past the opera’s midpoint, and not only in how to employ the set: Leonora’s “rescue” from a convent future misfires as a result of action split onto two non-competing levels; and Manrico’s execution confounds situational logic, even on the director’s terms, capping the story in hollowness.

Those locals, Anja Harteros and Jonas Kaufmann, made their scenic role débuts amid the non-suspense. It was her night, not so much the troubadour’s, but both sang with consistent beauty of tone and expressive point. Aided, perhaps abetted, by conductor Paolo Carignani, the Greek-German soprano delivered a luxuriant, pleasingly inflected Tacea la notte placida and later fairly milked D’amor sull’ali rosee, bringing down the house. Then Carignani, otherwise robust of purpose, failed to infuse tension for the Miserere, and so Leonora’s ensuing stretta fell flat. Kaufmann traversed his seventh Verdi role with power to spare. Ah sì, ben mio, produced against a reflecting board, drew best use of his bronzed timbre and deft messa di voce. On the phrase O teco almeno he mustered (to these ears) a high B Flat, and held it without strain for four seconds; he refused to push for volume in the All’armi! A smart Manrico. Nobody’s mad thriller.

Caruso’s quartet found completion in relative veterans Elena Manistina and Alexey Markov, an Azucena and Conte di Luna pairing at the Met this past January. She unquestionably has the chops for the gypsy — contralto with an extended top, more than mezzo-soprano as marketed — but she did not yesterday convey terror, horror, or motherhood. After an impeccable Il balen del suo sorriso, Markov’s unified, rich baritone seemed to fade. He came nowhere near matching Harteros in the sexually charged and vital sequence Mira, di acerbe lagrime … Vivrà! contende il giubilo, the evening’s one serious musical let-down.

Years of Bayreuth duty have sadly lodged a beat in Kwangchul Youn’s warm and solidly trained bass. As Ferrando on that vaudeville stage, he gamely and vividly introduced the story (Di due figli vivea padre beato … Abbietta zingara, fosca vegliarda!) to Py’s implausible audience.

Carignani found the lift in Verdi’s lines, and his rhythms injected unforced energy. He favored light textures, kindly supporting the voices, but the string sound wanted significantly more bottom and resonance: the equivalent of four more cellos, two double basses. That much. The Bavarian State Orchestra played well; the chorus sang in unclear Italian with fair discipline.

During intermission, Manistina and Kaufmann silently indulged the director in an on-stage, magic-trick box-slicing of the troubadour’s body. Maybe fortuitously this passed without much notice, as the well-dressed première throngs were still out sipping wine, munching canapés, and spooning Rote Grütze mit Vanillesoße.

 back top