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Opera San Jose Tackles Il Trovatore

San Jose
Montgomery Theatre
02/01/2003 -  2, 4, 7, 8, 9, 11, 13, 15, 16, 20, 21, 22, 23, February 2003
Giuseppe Verdi: Il Trovatore
Adam Flowers/Jonathan Hodel(Manrico), Lori Decter/Julie Makerov (Leonora), Malin Fritz/Michele Detwiler (Azucena), Joseph Wright/Jason Detwiler (Count di Luna), Jesse Merlin/Kirk Eichelberger (Ferrando), Kimberly Matthies (Inez), Nicolas Aliaga (Gypsy), Paul Heijn (Messenger), Bill Welch (Ruiz)

David Rohrbaugh/Anthony Quartuccio, conductor
Lorna Haywood, stage director

Verdi’s Il Trovatore is not easily cast today, even in the major opera houses of the world. The four leads are all prime Verdi roles, demanding great voices and great techniques in order to do full justice to the score. The story can easily become another stumbling block with a plot that can seems preposterous if not staged and performed with absolute conviction and commitment.

None of these hurdles deterred Opera San Jose from adding Il Trovatore to the company’s repertory however, and the results, while mixed, were persuasive. At the first Sunday matinee, things got off to an unpromising start. Conductor David Rorbaugh’s tempi in the opening scene were stately, deliberate and did little to impart any sense of excitement or urgency. Then suddenly, in Ferrando’s cabaletta, “L’anima perduta”, he seems to have changed courses and the singers could barely keep up with his brisk tempo. After that, Rohrbaugh found a balance and held to performance together, though his inflexible tempi rarely pulsated with life.

In addition to the fine work by the orchestra, the Opera San Jose chorus did a commendable job in the choral scenes. The anvil hammering during the well-known Anvil Chorus failed to convince, but the chorus was well prepared vocally and provided a strong presence in their scenes throughout the performance. Using one of the largest groups ever for the company, they sang with a full, well blended tone and generally clear diction.

The staging by Lorna Haywood was straightforward and free of gimmicks, trusting in the composer and librettist. She used Giulio Cesare Perrone’s unit set effectively with a focused direct approach that suited the story and enabled the singers to focus on their demanding roles and the challenges of singing Verdi’s vocal lines.

While none of the singers was endowed with the full range of attributes necessary to encompass the vocal demands, they all came much closer to realizing Verdi’s wishes than one might expect from young singers still in formative stages of their careers.

Julie Makerov did a remarkable job as Leonora. She displayed a full rich middle voice, so important in the role, tasteful use of chest voice, and a good sense of phrasing. Her top is not entirely settled, but after a miscalculated lunge at the top note in the cadenza of her first aria, “Tacea la notte placida”, she lightened her tone for the top, keeping it focused, on pitch and steady. Her coloratura singing sounded effortless and she was the only one of the soloists to display a true trill. Furthermore, her singing sounded as strong and well supported in the final scene with some beautiful diminuendi and soft high notes.

Michele Detwiler’s Azucena also had a wonderfully full sounding middle register and was fearless in use of her strong lower register. The top, was solidly supported and sounded attractive, but lacked the power and bite for the most dramatic moments. In her first scene, Ms. Detwiler seemed somewhat restrained; particularly in her narrative “Condotta all’era in ceppi”, but in the second half she threw herself into the role with a welcome passionate involvement. Ms. Detwiler is also to be commended for resisting the temptation to oversing the role, using her reliable technique and musical intelligence instead.

As the Conte di Luna, Jason Detwiler gave into that temptation and pushed his attractive baritone too much of the time. In the middle and lower range, he has a warm full tone that flows easily. But he tends to try pushing the fullness up into the upper range where the tone becomes spread and unsteady. Mr. Detwiler strikes an imposing figure on stage, but tends to do little more than strike those poses and never appeared fully involved in the character or the situation. Vocally, Mr. Detwiler seemed much more involved, delivering the text with authority and assurance, biting into the lines and firmly grasping the idiom.

In the title role, Jonathan Hodel was more seriously over-parted. His lyric tenor lacks the thrust and focus for Manrico’s dramatic outbursts while his lack of line and legato impaired the lyric part of the role such as “Ah si, ben mio”. Hodel is to be commended for giving his all to the role, but it seems an irresponsible move on the part of the company to ask a singer of his vocal and technical resources to sing a role such as this, even in a small house with a small orchestra.

Promising bass Kirk Eichelberger held his own, even with Rorbaugh’s lethargic tempo for “Di due figli” and thereafter sounded even better and he sang with firmness and clarity.

Opera San Jose is an ambitious young company and this production of Il Trovatore was a good example of the company’s determination and refusal to play it safe. While they rely heavily on the basic repertory and rarely venture from it, they extend the company in other ways. And while sometimes they overreach, they come close enough to maintain their standards and meet their audience’s expectations. The audience at Sunday’s performance of Il Trovatore responded enthusiastically and seemed not to mind the vocal shortcomings of the cast.

Kelly Snyder



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