Missing children, revenge killing, civil war, doomed love—another fabulous night at the Metropolitan Opera. And my word, this is the Verdi opera with the Anvil Chorus! You cannot fail to grin as the hammers ring out through the crowd scene in this infectious, manly tribute to youthful ardor.
Magnificent voices soar, plead, and rage in this transporting Il Trovatore, as the orchestra keeps our pulses racing. The curtain opens on a garrison in a fictional war-torn duchy in this production set in the time of Napoleon, where the Count’s regulars battle ragtag rebels over…what exactly? It doesn’t really matter. What matters is that the heart of the Count’s intended, Leonora, has been successfully wooed by the titular troubadour, and there the latest trouble begins. Angela Meade is indeed angelic as Leonora, if a bit broad in her acting. But it all works beautifully as she voices a love almost supernaturally passionate enough to transcend death. Her singing elevates the audience as if in a glistening spell. Antonello Palombi, not originally scheduled to appear this night, is convincing in all moments as Manrico, the troubadour with a befogged past, wooer, devoted son, bitter rival to Count Di Luna.
Juan Jesus Rodriguez thunders forcefully as the controlling count, whose family in their view, has been beset by Gypsy curses and evil for a generation. The Gypsies (with apologies, not Rom) are the distrusted outsiders in this world, closer to nature, more tribal, maligned as witchlike makers of spells.
There have been almost three entire casts over the course of the season, with Dolora Zajick the one constant as Azucena, the surviving daughter of an old Gypsy woman executed long ago. Despite the foreground love story between Manrico and Leonora, Zalick’s performance is the grieving, tortured heart of the show. Azucena has raised Manrico as her own after a tragic mistake committed during a crazed act of retribution long ago. We feel her grief and confusion borne for years and channeled into devotion to Manrico, her low mezzo passages touching and shocking.
The fifth star given here is earned by the cumulative soul wrenching that Verdi provides, executed with almost unearthly virtuosity by the talents on stage. That is why you must go if possible. But it is not given entirely without reservation.
Charles Edwards’ monumental, Goya-inspired set falls between two types. It lies somewhere between the grand scale of a no-holds-barred Zefferelli staging and the economical old City Opera approach where one stunning stage creation is rotated through the course of the evening. He gives us a vision of towering old city walls from a mighty past, now lost in disorder. An out-sized figure of Jesus suffering on the cross stands amid the rubble in the darkness. The massive architecture, yes, rotates through the evening, inventively becoming garrison, Gypsy meeting spot, noble home, castle prison, in a moonlit world artfully splashed with shadows by lighting designer Jennifer Tipton. So it is pretty jaw-dropping, but not one jaw-dropping realization after another—and that’s how spoiled we are!
Also the plot of Il Trovatore is famously circuitous and logic-defying. It requires a lengthy aria of backstory exposition at the opening (delivered stirringly by strong, clear bass Kwangchul Youn, captivating a restive chorus of troops). If you’re new to opera, you may feel distressed at having to keep track of all the revenge-worthy grievances. Al though I assure you, by the end, you’ll agree that Verdi has kept track very, very well indeed. The effect is beyond logic, halfway to a fraught dream, where the terror and the pity are inescapably real.