Il Trovatore, (The Troubadour), is one of Guiseppe Verdi’s most famous and popular operas and finishes off the 2014/15 season for Scottish Opera in fine dramatic style. First performed in Rome in 1853, it now forms a regular part of major opera companies’ repertoires and was last performed by Scottish Opera in 2001. The famous singer Enrico Caruso apparently once remarked that all that Il Trovatore needs in order to succeed are the four greatest singers in the world. I’m not qualified to judge if they are the best in the world, but the four singers playing the lead roles in this production are all excellent and more than do justice to the complex and sweeping arias. Welsh tenor Gwyn Hughes Jones as Manrico, Claire Rutter as Leonora, Roland Wood as Count di Luna and Anne Mason as Azucena are all at the peak of their game and the Scottish Opera chorus is once again in fine form. There are some glorious arias – stirring and strong like Di Quella Pira, touching and tender like Tacea la Notte and some great ensemble and choral pieces, notably Chi del Getano, or the Anvil Chorus as it is better known. Conductor Tobias Ringbord and the Scottish Opera Orchestra are no less impressive.
The plot is torrid stuff but as seasoned opera goers and also as Game of Thrones fans, we can take the witch burnings, infanticide, fratricide and poisoning in our stride. Azucena is a gypsy woman who watched as her mother was burned at the stake by the old Count di Luna. Vowing to avenge her mother, Azucena kidnaps one of the Count’s sons and plans to throw him into the flames. Unfortunately, in her delirium, she throws her own son in instead and she then brings up the Count’s son, Manrico as her own. Cue fifteen years later and Manrico and the young Count are not only on opposing sides of battle, but they are also in love with the same woman, Leonora. You won’t be surprised to learn that it doesn’t turn out well for any of the main characters. Leonora takes her own life, Azucena faces burning at the stake and Manrico is executed by the Count who is unaware until the very last that they were in fact brothers.
Dark stuff indeed and played out on a dark and foreboding set of castle walls, simple yet effective, and stunningly lit by lighting designer Robert Dickson. The characters are fairly static on stage but cast huge shadows upon the backdrops. I previously saw this opera in the huge open air arena at Verona, it was a spectacular and thrilling production but the intimacy and intensity that the smaller theatre can bring is no less valid. Based on a design concept first used in the 1992 production, Director Martin Lloyd-Evans has successfully created this intimate, almost claustrophobic, atmosphere within which the characters can give full vent to their passionate emotions.
A fine end to this season and the 2015/2016 season has just been announced with lots to look forward to, kicking off with the ever popular Carmen and including works by Handel, Dvorak and Gilbert and Sullivan.