The Sunday Times, 7 July 2013
Hugh Canning
Verdi: Il trovatore, Bayerische Staatsoper, 27.Juni 2013
The big chill
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At the opposite end of the temperature spectrum, one of the hottest events of the Verdi bicentenary year — the role debuts of the German “Traumpaar” (dream team) Jonas Kaufmann and Anja Harteros in Verdi’s fire-and-blood melodrama Il trovatore — met with an equally equivocal response on the opening night of Munich’s annual summer festival at the Bavarian State Opera’s National Theatre: near ecstasy for the singers, a mixture of boos and bravos for the director, Olivier Py.

Harteros can do no wrong at Munich’s National Theatre, the centre of her operatic activity, and now Kaufmann’s “home” house, too. They have already appeared together in a new production of Wagner’s Lohengrin and a revival of Verdi’s Don Carlo, and in December they will add another Verdi opera, the tricky La forza del destino, to their joint repertoire.

The roles of Manrico — the opera’s titular troubadour — and Leonora are a less perfect fit than Don Carlo and Elisabetta di Valois, which they recently sang together for one per­formance at Covent Garden before Harteros succumbed to a bug. The soprano’s voice has grown exponentially in recent years, and the bel canto requirements of Leonora’s two big solo scenes and her duet with her predatory admirer the Count of Luna (the loud, unsubtle Alexey Markov) sounded negotiated rather than effortless. At least both she and Kaufmann try to articulate the gruppetti (little groups of short notes) and trills, and scrupulously observe Verdi’s dynamic markings.

With his movie-star looks, Kaufmann was surely born to swashbuckle, but he is a serious and thoughtful artist and I am not sure Manrico has sufficient depth of character to challenge him theatrically. The star tenor remains a controversial singer of Italian music — too veiled and baritonal in timbre for some, but as with his Don Carlo, the vocal sun eventually comes out in his voice and did so spectacularly in Manrico’s show-stopper, Di quella pira.

Kaufmann may not have italianità by birthright, but he has acquired enough of it now, and it is hard to imagine any of his rivals singing the role with such dark glamour and musicality.

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