This was a hectic week – traveling to Paris twice in one week certainly is some extraordinary event even for a frequent traveler like me.
I have booked Il Trovatore tickets as soon as those went on sale in Opera National de Paris and with regrets admitted even then, that none of the dates with Anna Netrebko as Leonora will fit my schedule. Thus, consoling myself with inner talk that it has to be different experience, as out of four Il Trovatore performances I have seen live this season three were with Anna as Leonora – twice at The Met and once in Salzburg. I was eager to see Ekaterina Semenchuk as Azucena, Ludovic Tézier as Il Conte di Luna and, certainly, experience Marcelo Alvarez as Manrico. I did not have high expectations for Hui He as Leonora, as have seen her in the role in Verona a few years ago, where she delivered sound and convincing performance. Then, due to schedule conflict, one of the planned meetings was moved a week earlier, and to Paris. So, I should have been grateful for such coincidence, if not previously scheduled PhD research design and literature review defense planned on Friday, forcing me to go back home for a day and to fly to Paris again Saturday morning. The positive aspect of sudden change was re-positioning this Il Trovatore as a treat after achieving important milestone – and it worked perfectly well!
It is early spring in Paris, and the weather here is much more pleasant than snowy and icy Riga. Seeing first cherries blossoming cheered me up for a whole weekend, and after some shopping and nice lunch I was ready for Opera Bastille, – as usual, on the second balcony, which is quite far away from the stage, but provides excellent sightline and impeccable sound. The performance was sold out, and just a few people were offering spare tickets by the entrance.
First, a few words about production and stage design – the story has been moved 100 years back, into the disastrous period of European history, WW1, destroying countries, families and lives.
Alex Ollé, one of the famous La Fura dels Baus, recreates the conflict and places principal protagonists in clear, transforming set with supporting lighting – facing all primal emotions directly, with no place to hide. The set design (smart and impressive solution of scenography by Alfons Flores) encased in mirrors and accented with silently moving columns, creating cloister, battlefield, cemetery or castle with minimalistic hints (impressive lighting design by Urs Schönebaum), gives us the opportunity to keep full attention on the vocal performance of main characters. The story is unbelievably messed up and melodramatic, but conflicts and real passion conveyed by extraordinary performers through the genius score of Verdi are influencing the audience with increasing intensity, culminating in last act with death and despair as the outcome of the unresolvable conflict, driven by revenge. So, Alex Ollé is another director on my “to follow” list, and I hope to catch some of his previous productions on renewals.
As suspected, Ekaterina Semenchuk was the central heroine of the story tonight, her portrayal of Azucena was so convincing and frightening, that her final phrase, claiming revenge, made my spine freeze… Her vocal capabilities are difficult to match as her voice is going into contralto in the lower register while her top notes are delivered with such volume and clarity many sopranos should be envious. Even if from a distance, her acting is fully convincing, and tells the story through small details, glances, and hints. Sacrificing her own or adopted children is just one of the episodes in the ongoing war, and she lives through it, guided by dark secret and mission to be accomplished.
It was a great pleasure to listen to the rich and colorful sound of Ludovic Tézier, he has created Il Conte di Luna as passionate, dominating and obsessed with revenge. The audience went into roaring ovations after his emotionally charged, heartbreaking performance of Il balen del suo sorriso.
Marcelo Alvarez delivered a fantastic portrayal of passionate, but emotionally challenged Manrico, and his performance of the main arias in Act 3 confirmed that Alvarez is in his top form, and the role fits him like a glove. I would have appreciated more credible acting in key scenes, but his vocal capabilities and incredible pianissimos bordering to whisper, fully conquered my heart.
Hui He as Leonora was becoming better and better with each scene, and her singing in last 2 acts was entirely convincing. Hui He has a warm, clear and voluminous soprano, easily filling the auditorium and soaring above the orchestra, just first 2 acts of the performance demonstrated that a few top notes that are seemingly so easy for Anna Netrebko for her come through some challenge. The death scene was genuinely heartbreaking, and audience unanimously expressed their appreciation with thunderous applause and Brava!
Chorus of Opera de Paris did an excellent job both singing and acting, and Daniele Callegari led orchestra energetically, with refreshing tempo and ease.
Opera in four parts (1853)
Music Giuseppe Verdi
Libretto Salvatore Cammarano
Conductor Daniele Callegari
Director Alex Ollé
Il Conte di Luna Ludovic Tézier
Leonora Hui He
Azucena Ekaterina Semenchuk
Manrico Marcelo Alvarez
Ferrando Roberto Tagliavini
Ines Marion Lebègue
Ruiz Oleksiy Palchykov
Set design Alfons Flores
Costume design Lluc Castells
Lighting design Urs Schönebaum
Chorus master José Luis Basso