The last Saturday night in February saw the opening of Giuseppe Verdi’s Il Trovatore (The Troubadour) the latest production from Melbourne’s CitiOpera. It has a complex plot which revolves around a case of mistaken identity, infanticide, love, war, nuns and suicide – all the ingredients you need for a night at the opera.
The opening scene takes place during the Spanish civil war (1930s) where Ferrando, captain of the guard (Adam Jon) tells his assembled troops a horrific tale about a terrible incident which happened centuries before. He tells of the Conte di Luna, a father of two young sons. One night he finds an old gypsy woman at the cradle of his younger son. She claims to be reading his horoscope, but when the baby falls ill, he believes the gypsy has bewitched the child.
He orders her to be burned at the stake as a witch. As she is being dragged to the pyre, she calls on her daughter Azucena (Helen Hill) to avenge her. Overcome by the screams during execution, Azucena hurls the Conte’s baby son into the flames and escapes. Although a child’s skeleton is found in the ashes, the Conte di Luna still believes his son is alive. On his deathbed, he commands his first born, the new Conte di Luna to find Azucena.
With troops and the audience suitably horrified, the story begins in earnest, but now we are in 15th century Spain. Here we meet Leonora (Fiona Jopson) a lady-in-waiting to a Princess. She is confessing to her friend Inez (Bronte Zemlic) her love for a mystery knight, who she thought lost in the civil war, but who has returned as a wandering troubadour. The Conte (Samuel Thomas-Holland) arrives to court Leonora but overhears the troubadour singing to her. In the dark, she believes the Conte to be her lover. The troubadour finds them together and the rivals clash. Recognizing the Troubadour as the outlaw knight Manrico ( Byung Kil Yoon), the Conte challenges Manrico to a duel but when Manrico has the chance to kill the Conte, strangely something prevents him. There’s plenty of dirty work afoot before the final curtain comes down.
There are some fine musical moments in this production, directed by Stella Axarlis. Iconic ensemble pieces like the famous Anvil Chorus, comes complete with an actual anvil being played on stage. The ensemble is a very versatile one, playing the Conte’s guards, Manrico’s troop of rebels, a band of gypsies and even a convent of nuns.
Samuel Thomas-Holland gives a lusty vocal performance as Conte di Luna and uses his imposing stage presence to give life to his arias “Il balen del suo sorriso” (The light of her smile) and “Per me ora fatale” (Fatal hour of my life) while as Leonora, Fiona Jopson gives an assured and expressive performance. The 2015 Sun Aria winner shows that her range and precision are equal to the task of this demanding role. Her voice is thrilling in true bel canto style in “D’amor sull’ali rosee” (On the rosy wings of love).
Byung Kil Yoon is outstanding as Manrico, singing with great energy and confidence. He is by far the most experienced singer in this cast, but shares the stage generously. He is impressive in his love aria “Ah si, ben mio coll’essere” (Ah yes, my love in being yours) and the stirring “Di quella pira l’orrendo foco” (The horrible flames of the pyre) as he goes into battle.
As his mother Azucena, Helen Hill gives a richly characterized portrayal of the venerable and ill-fated old gypsy woman. The final scene had all the spine-tingling elements of grand opera. As the final pieces of the plot fall into place, Azucena rises and screams “Mother, you are avenged!”
Young bass Adam Jon as Ferrando opens the opera with a difficult aria, full of interval jumps, but does it with a strong, clear tone. And mezzo soprano Bronte Zemlic sings with grace and warmth as Inez.
There is some fine singing in this production, but as a not-for- profit company operating on a shoe string budget, there were obvious budgetary limitations which affected the sets and costumes. Tighter direction would have helped the more inexperienced members of the cast, but it was an opportunity to hear some fine vocal talents backed by a strong instrumental ensemble conducted masterfully by Gaetano Colajanni.
With an alternate cast and conductor, this production plays at the Athenaeum Theatre on March 1 & 4 then moves to the Frankston Arts Centre and Wyndham Cultural Centre. Details