Saturday, August 16, 2014

Il Trovatore at the Salzburg Festival

Ever wonder what happens when a museum closes its doors to visitors after a long day of tours and tourists? According to Alvis Hermanis the director and scenic designer of the new production of Giuseppe Verdi's Il Trovatore at the Salzburg Festival the guards put on a show.

The doors shut, the lights dim, and those silent sentinels who spend their day seated in a corner of a gallery making sure visitors stay away from the art as well as the flashes on their cameras take on the roles of the portraits around them. Two of the guards just happen to be Anna Netrebko and Plácido Domingo.  Before you know it, they've become Leonora and the Count di Luna, and are soon joined by Francesco Meli as Manrico, Marie-Nicole Lemieux, a giddy tour guide who turns into the tormented gypsy Azucena, and Ricardo Zenellato, an Italian tour guide who, at the beginning of the opera, scares his group of tourists out of their wits with a tale that could only be told by Ferrando, the bass character that he later becomes.

The stage is set for Verdi's "capa y espada" opera to be performed in a museum against the backdrop of familiar Renaissance and Baroque paintings. It's a night at the museum like no other night. Is it the director's view that opera belongs in a museum, with Il Trovatore the biggest museum piece one can find in the repertory? Are the many paintings of Madonna, Christ and John The Baptist supposed to remind us of the two children of the old Count di Luna? Like many "Regietheater" productions this one poses more questions than it actually answers, and the museum conceit grows tiresome almost immediately, although the deep reds and crimson velvets of the stage design and costumes are sumptuous to look at.

Anna Netrebko sang with fiery conviction. Leonora is a role that falls easily in her range, and she was quite convincing in just about every one of her scenes. Sadly Francesco Meli was not the impressive figure that the role of Manrico calls for.  Short of stature and thin of voice, he oftentimes seemed to disappear into the background. Plácido Domingo sang the role of the Count Di Luna under the weather. A few years ago when he began to take on the baritone repertory it sounded like a strange decision. To hear him in this role, his voice somewhat frayed, his natural tenor superficially lowered and darkened, assures me that he is no baritone. Still, he has had decades of experience and possesses a rock solid technique. He was able to get through "Il balen del suo sorriso," possibly Verdi's most demanding baritone aria, with minimal strain. He may not be a baritone, but he is a helluva performer, and he can't hide that he loves to be onstage.

Daniele Gatti led the Vienna Philharmonic firmly, but with the kind of gusto I have not heard from him in a while. The results were long Italianate lines and wide transparent sounds.  The work in the pit was perhaps the most memorable part of this very strange night in the museum.

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