In 1851 Verdi wrote to his librettist Cammarano “the more unusual and bizarre the better” urging him to complete the libretto for Il Trovatore. The storyline is unusual, to say the least, yet challenging to every director undertaking the production of this opera.
David Bösch’s debut production at the Royal Opera House is bookended by two destructive fires. In between lies a love triangle, ashes of flames ignited by brutality, hatred, and hunger for revenge, jealousy and intolerance, all of which are sanctioned by those in power. Bösch’s direction thematically is interesting and intriguing but at the dramatic level leaves quite a lot wanting
The protective screen across the stage bears a teenager’s doodle of a heart with the names of Leonora + Luna and below, Manrico. It looks almost innocent and light-hearted, reminiscent of a High school tease. The screen lifts exposing ash-grey scenery, a kind of blasted landscape, with soldiers wrapped in monochrome grey in front of a dying fire.
Maurizio Muraro’s Ferrando, their Capitan, provides a promising opening to the production. His area “Di due figli vivea padre beato” in which he unfolds the back story to events to come, is superbly executed and the chorus and orchestra draw the audience in.
A tank with LUNA’s name splashed across its armored skirt rolls on stage, embodying the military might in the hands of the Count di Luna.
The impact is largely lost, as the powerful music is not mirrored in the performance or even, really, this bit of stage business. Željko Lučić is Count di Luna: although he seems mature for his role, yet he carries his part majestically rather than menacingly. He gives a fine performance yet his passion for Leonora falters. Francesco Meli’s Manrico, the troubadour, the Count’s rival, has a powerful voice that fails to engage with emotions and convince of his passion for Leonora despite some fine singing. The dramatic tension embedded between the notes is almost muted. Meli’s energy is utterly contained in his singing and too little devoted to theatrical interaction with the other principal performers on stage. Lianna Haroutounian’s Leonora, although she took time to relax in her role, offers a firm and captivating Leonora.
Russian mezzo-soprano Ekaterina Semenchuk’s Azucena, the gypsy whose life is set to avenge her mother’s burning at the stake by the order of the Count’s father, has the dark, dusky mezzo voice needed for the role. Unfortunately, as with the other three principal singers, she does not have the gift of conveying through acting with her body or her voice, the real dramatic power of her character. The fantasy of the drama transmitted through the music relies more on the superbly performance by the Royal Opera orchestra under the baton of Gianandrea Noseda who also makes his Royal Opera House debut.
Patrick Bannwart’s set design and Meentje Nielsen’s make a suitable impact and are consistent with Bösch’s core themes in the production. However, there is too much that is simply too obvious thrust in your face, which grates the audience’s intelligence. Sometimes, less just says a great deal more and more subtly.