Il Trovatore at Met

Took a short trip back to the States last week – flew out to Chicago on Sunday afternoon, and flew back from New York the following Saturday afternoon (our trip to NYC perfectly coincided with the Pope’s, which was somewhat inconvenient…). It was hectic, but I had an enjoyable time, visiting with old friends, coworkers, and old haunts.

To be honest though, not to discount the meetups with friends, but the highlight of my trip was catching Il Trovatore at the Metropolitan Opera! While I am not a huge fan of the convoluted plot, I was most excited to see again live Anna Netrebko and Dimitri Hvorostovsky – the latter especially since it was his first return to the stage from brain tumor chemo. And we weren’t in the least disappointed. This was a dream cast, with four outstanding lead singers, including Yonghoon Lee and Dolora Zajick. Eric Simpson’s review from New York Classical Review quite perfectly summarizes our experiences of what might go down as a legendary evening!

Hvorostovsky’s return adds emotion to Met’s dramatic “Trovatore”
September 26, 2015 at 3:31 pm
By Eric C. Simpson

Photo Credit: Marty Sohl

Photo Credit: Marty Sohl

Friday night had the feel of a reunion at the Metropolitan Opera, as David McVicar’s vivid 2009 production of Il Trovatore returned with much of its original cast. The bleak sets, with torture victims looming constantly behind prison grates, lent dark drama to one of the most emotional evenings at the Met in recent memory.

Dmitri Hvorostovsky, the superstar baritone playing the Count di Luna, announced over the summer that his doctors had identified a tumor in his brain. Friday’s was the first of three performances he will sing at the Met this fall before returning to London for further treatment.

The news was not lost on many present on Friday. The ovation that erupted when he first appeared was fervid enough that Marco Armiliato had to stop the orchestra and let the audience have their say—which they continued to do until Hvorostovsky acknowledged them with a gesture of gratitude.

His performance Friday was not the most flawless performance Hvorostovsky has ever given: he was occasionally difficult to hear and the G at the top of “Il balen del suo sorriso” spread glaringly. Yet otherwise, that aria was sublime, a passionate rendition that showcased his spiced caramel tone and arching, seemingly endless phrases that have made him one of the most treasured baritones of his generation. If the emotion of the evening was getting to the Russian baritone, he didn’t show it—in this portrayal he was mostly collected, sure of purpose even in his flashes of rage.

Anna Netrebko continues to add to her repertoire at an impressive pace, singing Leonora for the first time at the Met, after having tried on the role in Berlin and Salzburg. Vocally, this is a superb role for her. She showed a rich, dark-hued sound, and brought beautiful and intricate coloration in all her singing. Her work in the “Miserere” in Act III was most stunning of all, unleashing a burning chest voice, and it was here that her acting was the most satisfying, as well, leaving her alone with her consuming passion and her daunting decision. Elsewhere her portrayal seemed generalized, though Leonora is a more subdued role than Lady Macbeth or Anne Boleyn, the powerful ladies she’s portrayed in recent seasons. As she often does, Netrebko had a few issues of intonation, but her coloratura was surprisingly accurate, lending a fiercely giddy chirp to the cabaletta “Di tale amor.”

On a night with many more recognizable names and stories, the tenor Yonghoon Lee made his presence felt, giving what was in many ways a breakthrough performance as Manrico. It was difficult to find much fault with his singing: he showed a full, muscular, bronze tone with a nice soft voice to match. He carved out long, rolling phrases, and while he clearly felt entirely secure in the vocal part, he did not let comfort give way to complacency. Charismatic and energetic, Lee pursued both his beloved and his rival with conviction, delivering a stirring rendition of the famous battle-cry “Di quella pira.”

The Met’s reigning Azucena, Dolora Zajick, was on hand once again to inhabit the role with which she made her company debut in 1988. Nearly three decades have not softened her portrayal in the least; at sixty-three, she still brings a dark, imposing instrument to the stage, and craftily hides her malice under a world-weary façade. If her voice wobbles ever so slightly, it only adds to the effect. Also joining the cast from the 2009 run was Štefan Kocán, a superb fit for the officer Ferrando. His dramatic account of the opening narration, sung with a flinty edge, set a promising pace for the evening.

Apropos pacing, Marco Armiliato kept a firm grip on the orchestra, and gave an intelligent, if largely straightforward, reading of the score. His conducting was mostly restrained, but he took the lid off for the Anvil Chorus, which the Met’s choristers bellowed with joyful abandon. The only time things seemed to be out of hand was when he allowed Hvorostovsky a touch of indulgent rubato, but under the circumstances, who can blame him?

Also, NYTimes’ Artsbeat Blog on the audience’s loud appreciation of Mr. DM (it was electric!):

Met Opera Crowd Cheers Ailing Russian Baritone
By ZACHARY WOOLFE SEPTEMBER 25, 2015 11:34 PM
Three months after announcing he had a brain tumor, and still in the midst of treatment, the cherished Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky returned to the Metropolitan Opera on Friday evening as the Count di Luna in Verdi’s “Il Trovatore.”

An ovation greeted his first entrance, loud and long enough that he broke character to smile and pat his heart in appreciation. Three hours later, the curtain calls ended with the orchestra pelting Mr. Hvorostovsky with white roses, as his co-star, the Russian soprano Anna Netrebko, appeared visibly moved. Ms. Netrebko and several colleagues donned T-shirts in support of Mr. Hvorostovsky earlier this summer at a concert in Moscow.

Since his Met debut on Oct. 26, 1995, in Tchaikovsky’s “Queen of Spades,” Mr. Hvorostovsky has sung more than 170 performances with the company, concentrating on Russian and Verdi operas but also in Mozart, Gounod and Donizetti. He was the Count di Luna when the current “Il Trovatore” production had its premiere in 2009. And when he appeared this spring in Verdi’s “Don Carlo,” our critic Anthony Tommasini wrote that he “brought velvety legato phrasing, virile sound and his distinctive smoky timbre to Rodrigo.”

Mr. Hvorostovsky was originally scheduled for 10 performances of “Il Trovatore” this season, but he announced earlier this month that he would sing the first three — including Tuesday evening and next Saturday’s matinee, to be broadcast in movie theaters worldwide live in HD — then return to London to continue medical treatment.

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