Il Trovatore at the Met

Il Trovatore at the Met last night on paper should have been a rather dull night. David McVicar's production is on its third tired revival in three years. The Met is alternating casts and I saw the B-cast. Enrico Caruso once said that all you need for Il Trovatore is "the four greatest singers in the world" --not exactly what comes to mind when you read a playbill that says: Guanqun Yu (Leonora), Gwyn Hughes-Jones (Manrico), Dolora Zajick (Azucena) and Angel Odena (di Luna). Zajick's Azucena is of course a well-known portrayal but the other three were completely unknown to me.

The evening overall was a pleasant surprise. The Leonora was probably the chief reason for the evening's relative success. Guanqun Yu has a lovely, well-produced, fairly large lyric soprano voice that she uses with taste and refinement. I could quibble that she doesn't have much of a trill, the coloratura is gingerly attacked, and her low notes are kind of inaudible, but they are outweighed by the positives. All she's lacking is that bit of individuality in both singing style and acting -- right now she is in both demeanor and voice sort of a conservatory singer. Very clean, very pretty, a little dull. But with time and experience I'm sure she'll develop more of a presence. But it's just a pleasure to hear such a sweet voice. She also has fairly good dramatic instincts -- she eschewed some of the more frantic stage business in the original production for a more dignified, aristocratic take on Leonora. This is a promising debut.

Gwyn Hughes-Jones as Manrico didn't have the vocal glamor that is needed for this cardboard hero. Manrico is not really very deep psychologically and so over time this role has become a bit of a vocal fireworks competition. (If you want to be entertained, read James Drake's biography on Rosa Ponselle for an anecdote about an ugly spat that occurred between Ponselle and Giacomo Lauri-Volpi after Lauri-Volpi held a top note too long for Ponselle's tastes. Vocal showboating is a beloved tradition for Manricos.) Hughes-Jones has a solid top C (his "Di quella pira" was surprisingly rousing and capped off with a long-held high C) but the timbre is kind of a squeezed, narrow tube of sound that doesn't really bloom. He does sing with a fair amount of taste and style, and is a decent actor.

Dolora Zajick's Azucena is acknowledged to be a modern classic portrayal. There was an announcement that she was still suffering from a virus but would sing anyway. Her voice is still an impressive instrument -- blazing on top, chesty on the bottom, and most of all, rafter-raising in its volume. It shows little signs of age except that it has developed that mezzo "donut hole" -- top and bottom still great, but the middle not as rich and resonant as it once was. This was demonstrated most clearly when she ended the opera with a huge B-flat, but "Ai nostri monti" sounded momentarily weak and under-powered.

Morris Robinson (Ferrando) has a deep, dark basso -- clearly a major-league voice. His vibrato is kind of intrusive but this is a voice (like Yu's) that one has a feeling is headed for great things. Angel Odena as di Luna was perhaps the weakest link -- he's sort of literally a park and bark singer. I understand that di Luna is sort of a mustache-twirling villain without the complexity of, say, Iago or Germont, but I also don't understand why so many baritones feel that if they are singing di Luna it's acceptable to literally just stand center stage and bark their way through the entire opera. When I say bark, I mean they actually just sort of bark Verdi's music, even "Il balen." It's kind of comical.

The conductor Daniele Callegari barreled his way through the music as if he were in a hurry to catch the 10:30 train. Sure enough the performance ended well ahead of the projected 10:20 end time.

David McVicar's production has been muted -- much of the violent stage business and blocking is gone, and what's left is a rather bare-bones, safe production. But it gets the job done in a way.

Here's a youtube clip of Yu. Enjoy!


  1. I listened on Sirius, which I know is a completely different experience than being in the house, but I have to agree with most of what you said, at least as far as the voices go. I especially have to say that I was not impressed with Gwyn Hughes-Jones. He just doesn't sound right for this part at all (but then again I am unimpressed with most of the tenors the Met trots out these days).

    I do think that Dolora Zajick has been one of the greatest singers in the world throughout her career. She has been one of only a few singers during that time who brings what I would consider to be a golden age quality and excitement to her performances. Even at 60 she still sounds great. If I go to see this next week it will be primarily to hear her. And I am hoping to catch her Amneris this season also.


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