Saturday, April 30, 2011: During the 5 minute countdown to the start of today’s opera Ellen asked me, “Is this your favorite opera?” I replied to the effect that all operas are my favorites, all Verdi operas are my special favorite operas, but Il Trovatore is not one of my special special favorite Verdi operas.”
That was before. Now it is two hours after the applause at the end died out and I left the Cinemark Theatre in Palo Alto Square and my answer is changed to a single work, “YES.” I can’t recall ever witnessing a better opera performance than the one I saw this morning. Everything came together. Guiseppe Verdi’s dramatic music, Maestro March Amiliato’s conducting, the wonderful singers giving their all – I mean WOW.
In her introductory remarks before the opera hostess Renée Fleming quoted Luciano Pavarotti’s response when asked if Il Trovatore is a difficult opera to produce: “No, it’s very simple. Just collect the four very best opera singers in the world and put them all on the stage together.”
That was not a particularly modest thing for Pavarotti to say, since on October 8 1988 the four star performers in the Met production of Il Trovatore were:
Manrico Luciano Pavarotti
Leonora Eva Marton
Count Di Luna Sherrill Milnes
Azucena Dolora Zajick
Now, if you asked 10 prominent opera critics to name the 4 best opera singers in the world today, I suspect the composite list of answers would be closer to 20 names than to 4. However if you asked any of the many thousands of people who saw that performance at Lincoln Center or on Live MetHD aroound the world to name any opera singer at this specific time (4 pm on 4/30/11) who was better than
Manrico Marcelo Álvarez
Leonora Sondra Radvanovsky
Count Di Luna Dmitri Hvorostovsky
Azucena Dolora Zajick
I doubt if you would find very many candidates. I mean, these four singers were inspired. I wouldn’t be surprised if every one of them had said to him/her self first thing that morning, “Today I am going to sing the best performance I have ever sung in my entire life.”
Notice an interesting thing in those two casts above? Yep, that’s the same Dolora Zajick who made her Met debut as Azucena 23 years ago who sang today. Including those two, the Met has put on 121 performances of Il Trovatore during those 23 years – and Zajick has sung Acuzena in 41 of them!
The intermission interview that Renée Fleming held with Marcelo Álvarez and Sondra Radvanovsky live back-stage between Acts II and III was fascinating. The soprano was extremely vivacious and interactive with the tenor. It was either a case of Sandra being in love with Marcelo, or of the actors retaining their stage personae so the interview was with Leonora and Manrico, not with Sandra and Marcelo.
One reason that the opera held together so grippingly was that the tension was unbroken except for a single intermission between Acts II and III. The sets were all on a revolving stage so that a scene change took less time than the normal applause period that greeted the climactic ending of each scene. Indeed, sometimes there was no pause at all in the action as the rotation would stop momentarily half way round and the audience could see the beginning of the next scene before the previous one had ended.
The action of the opera takes place over a couple of years and is driven by events that took place 20 years earlier. Thanks to a couple of narrative arias and good super titles you should have no problem following the story even if you don’t know anything about it ahead of time. Pay particular attention to the words during the opening aria by Ferrando (Stefan Kocán ) and to the aria and recitative by Azucena (Dolora Zajick) during the scene at the Gypsy camp.
And that’s all I’m going to tell you because I don’t want to spoil your suspense when you go to see the Encore on Wednesday May 18 at 6:30 pm local time in a movie theatre near you. You are going, aren’t you? I insist. You can use your own judgment about going to some other opera company’s performance, and there are no more live performance of Il Trovatore at the Met this year. But the Encore performance on May 18 2011 will be the exact same thing that I’ve been writing about. And that is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
If you live in or near Palo Alto, look for me at the CinéArts @ Palo Alto Square theatre. I usually get there a few minutes before 6 so I can get my favorite seat: Center Section, 3rd row from the back, 3rd seat from the left. I’d love to see you. Until then,
The Opera Nut
Photos, except as noted: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera