Review of Reviews: Alagna and Hvorostovski in Il Trovatore at the ROH

Critical perspectives on the latest London opera production

April 2009

Roberto Alagna The latest revival of Il Trovatore directed by Elijah Moshinsky opened at Covent Garden a few nights ago. Its critical reception was controversial. It was in many ways a memorable event; yet, it is interesting to take a look at different perspectives to highlight some of the (often contrastive) positive and negative sides of the performance.

Tim Ashley of The Guardian immediately individuates a trait that most critics imply, more or less overtly, and that deals with the prominence of the male protagonists: 'The latest revival of Elijah Moshinsky's 2002 production of Verdi's Il Trovatore forms a vehicle for Roberto Alagna and Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Manrico and Di Luna respectively'. Ashley reflects on the complementary characteristics of the two singers – Alagna's athletic liveliness compared to Hvorostovsky' aristocratic rigidity. Both delivered their singing with confidence and, The Guardian adds, both were 'entirely credible as subconsciously linked alter-ego'.

Hvorostovsky's interpretation was unanimously praised for its elegance. For instance, Richard Fairman of the Financial Times is mesmerized by the baritone's expressiveness, which he takes as paradigm for Verdian vocal eloquence: 'not just volume, but the ability to spin the voice out on expressive, long lines with instrumental beauty, like a cello'. Edward Seckerson's remarks follow the same lines, and he writes in The Independent that 'His Act II romance truly showed his superior class with breath after eternal breath tracing out those Verdi legatos as if somehow they were mysteriously created in the singing of them'. For George Hall of The Stage, the baritone's portrayal of Count of Luna is unique, and the effect of his performance is 'brainstorming'.

As for Alagna's interpretation, the FT wishes the tenor could recuperate a more delicate tone, one that has characterised his singing in the past. Although, he adds, in this particular performance 'his Manrico raised the blood-pressure with his fearless, Italianate élan'. Along these lines, The Independent, comments that 'the "squillo" quality that has developed in his voice gives him the vengeful vocal edge, the roughness, that the role of Manrico requires'.

The Telegraph's take on Alagna's charmingly incontrollable portrayal is a spur for a different kind of reflection. Despite praising the tenor's powerful performance, Rupert Christiansen notes that 'Alagna has tremendous raw talent, and it's something of a mystery as to why he doesn't use it better'.

Barry Millington of the Evening Standard has different opinions on both the male protagonists: as for Alagna, he argues that 'the virile display required of Manrico encouraged him to push harder than was desirable'; and he criticizes Hvorostovsky's apparent inattention to the text.

As for the women in this Trovatore, Sondra Radvanovsky impressed some of the critics thanks to her potent register. She 'has enough voice to sing Leonora and a couple of other roles on the side', the FT states. The Evening Standard adds that she 'stole the show'. The Times's Neil Fisher too comments on Radvanovski's vigorous performance: 'if the American soprano isn't always in complete command of her instrument, what's thrilling is how powerfully she deploys it'.

And yet, The Guardian has different views on the female protagonists. Its critic writes that neither Leonora nor Malgorzata Walewska's Azucena 'could be described as ideal'; and although acknowledging Radvanovsky's 'sumptuosness' of voice, Ashley notices some interpretive deficiency, and sporadic intonation problems for Walewska.

The Telegraph too comments on a certain immaturity of Radvanovsky's tone but it adds that she improved as the performance went on. For The Stage, the women are 'Less certain of their mark', and both were struggling sometimes – either due to their vocal lines or to their acting.

If, despite some flaws, the singing performance was enjoyable, Elijah Moshinsky's direction was probably the most intricate aspect of this Trovatore. The Guardian problematises the decision to update the opera to the mid-19th century: 'The production is strong on barrack-room male bonding and the wartime victimisation of women, less successful in its delineation of a credulous society that believes in witchcraft and prosecutes its perceived adherents'.

The Stage is of the same opinion: George Hall acknowledges the imaginativeness of drawing inspiration on Visconti's Risorgimento films; yet, he laments that 'an air of medieval mayhem is missing'. The Telegraph too has got reservation on the scarcity of action and passion of this staging: 'Where was the physical energy and emotional turmoil which should blaze out of one of Verdi's most visceral operas?', asks Rupert Christiansen.

Carlo Rizzi's interpretation was, if not enthusiastically acclaimed, positively received. The Telegraph noticed 'some small disagreements with the singers about tempi, and with the orchestra about ensemble'; yet its critic praises the conductor's vigorous and efficient approach.

The above mentioned lack of understanding between the pit and the stage was interpreted differently by The Independent. Seckerson comments that if the conductor 'occasionally seemed overly impatient to maintain the urgency of the narrative', it is also true that he was compensating for the singers, who lacked in vitality at times.

Comprimario singers managed to convince, if not to thrill, most critics, and actively participated in the accomplishment of the vocal performance. For instance, The Times writes that 'Mikhail Petrenko's vivid Ferrando and Monika-Evelin Liiv's Ines make incisive and useful contributions'.

Overall, this latest production at the Royal Opera offered some memorable vocal moments, especially due to the two male protagonists. And yet, the theatrical side did not convince the critics, and this affected the whole performance. It's perhaps The Telegraph's final remark that summarizes the most common response to this production: 'Although this wasn't a downright bad Trovatore, it's one that hasn't cohered'.

by Marina Romani

Photo: Roberto Alagna. Photo Credits: Catherine Ashmore

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Dmitri HvorostovskyRelated articles:

Review of the production
Interview with Dmitri Hvorostovsky
News ENO announces 2009-10 season
Review of a classic Il trovatore on CD from the ROH Heritage label
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