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.