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Il trovatore review (His Majesty's Theatre, Perth)

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And now to the drama on stage …

“Avenge me,” Azucena cries, for the death of her son and the oppression of her gypsy ways. There will be blood, naturally, and an opera company clouded in controversy will feel a sense of redemption. It’s a less sexy tale than the off-stage shenanigans, perhaps, but the treatment of Verdi’s masterpiece is impressive.

In a week when Western Australian Opera’s artistic director Joseph Colaneri walked — reportedly over creative differences — and so soon after the Carmen smoking controversy, the opening of Il trovatore couldn’t come soon enough. It’s a fine production, with full-throated performances, though indicative, perhaps, of why the fly-in-fly-out boss won’t be flying in any more.

(Curiously, the cast do light up in Elke Neidhardt’s Spanish Civil War-set production, despite the smoke haze around Carmen after a breathe-easy sponsor quietly protested. The company was quick to point out the sponsor was OK with honouring the late Neidhardt’s original vision. Ultimately, nothing much changes in opera.)

Neidhardt’s lurid and, importantly, lucid take on Verdi’s knotted work — first seen in Perth in 2002 — stands up well. Michael Scott-Mitchell’s towering set (and Nick Schlieper’s atmospheric lighting), squeezed into the gorgeous His Majesty’s, offers a captivatingly filmic scale. And Colaneri has wrangled some fine voices for his farewell.

The company built buzz around American coloratura Jennifer Rowley, who has an impressive resume of European stages and a Metropolitan La boheme and makes her Australian debut here. As Leonora, a cursory love-sick role, she demonstrated a wonderful warmth and agility in her vocals to live up to the billing. May she grace our shores again.

Local favourite James Clayton is strong as Count di Lunda, and David Parkin continues to grow as a performer, here as a fine Ferrando. Elizabeth Campbell, with the meatier female role of Azucena, was a little harsh on the ear but terrifically tortured in her performance. Fiona Campbell was a lovely presence as Leonora’s confidante Inés.

The real fire and brimstone came from Australian-born, Italian-trained tenor Rosario La Spina as troubled troubadour Manrico. His ferocious voice and heartfelt delivery brought a polish to the performance that might have been missing otherwise. Together with the WA Symphony Orchestra, which Colaneri commanded with real purpose, and the rousing chorus, it’s all gracefully balanced under rehearsal director Matthew Barclay. The stirring act three showstopper Di quella pira was the highlight it should be.

Colaneri, certainly, can be proud of his swan song — if frustrated, perhaps, at presenting another decade-old production of a well-worn work. It looks and sounds as good as most of the national company’s work in the east — a lack of originality that the departing maestro may well have questioned.

Il Trovatore plays His Majesty’s Theatre until November 8. Picture: Rosario La Spina as Manrico (by James Rogers).

3 responses to “Il trovatore review (His Majesty's Theatre, Perth)

  1. My Whittaker makes a serious aesthetic error — as theatre people commonly do — when he judges opera as primarily a piece of theatre. In addition, there is more than a serious element of disrespect for the form revealed when he writes about “this stuff”. Would he use that term about Shakespearean drama, for example? I doubt it. If he were to do so, then he should know better

    Long before the current phrase, “music theatre” (which also has several connotations), composers have described “opera” in diverse ways — including “opera”, itself, as well as “Favola in musica”, “Dramma per musica”, “Ein Conversations Stueck fuer Musik”, “Ein Buehnen Festspiele”, to select but a few.

    The essential point, which all too commonly evades people from the spoken-theatre is that music is a crucial element. The form is NOT firstly theatre — many oratioris seek to achieve that as well — but is an integrated form with NOTHING to be predominant. As Wagner termed it:a “Gesamtkunstwerk” — a complete or comprehensive work of art.

    So to judge opera primarily as theatre — with no attention or (words) knowledge of the musical attainment (either of composition or of execution) — is sadly inadequate. And listening to broadcasts is no substitute for extensive experience of a diversity of repertoire and production styles; it limits the critical worth of anything written, therefore.

    This multifaceted character of the form is part of the reason why is it so difficult to create: like novelists attempting theatre, composers (even highly accomplished ones) seldom have the theatrical experience to make critical judgements about libretti, timing and so on for the different form. Likewise, many theatre directors are as sea when confronted by the different requirements of sung drama.

    It is

  2. Dr John,

    I’ve been consuming opera in this country and productions from around the world — at The Met in person and European stages via broadcast — for a number of years. You may well have me beat on the musicality of opera. I bow down.

    But I do believe, because you raise the point, that opera should always ultimately be judged as a piece of theatre. It must stand as an engaging drama — anything less is merely a concert. That’s the prism through which I view this stuff.

  3. Jason Whittaker’s biographical “tag-line” gives no indication of any substantial knowledge of opera or — no less importantly — any experience of operatic production outside Australia. Given that “theatre critics” are, these days, perfectly willing to write about opera — seemingly “off the cuff” — it would be reassuring to learn that Mr Whittaker’s knowledge is deeper than it represented.

    Unfortunately, there’s nothing to suggest that in what he has written: it’s full of meaningless cliche like “full throated”, “meaty”, “vocals”. In shore, in writing about a form of music-based dramas, he avoids serious comment about the music. Perhaps that’s just as well.

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