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Sense and Sensitivity

Symphony Hall
03/01/2013 -  & March, 2, 3* (Phoenix), 9, 10 (Tucson), 2013
Giuseppe Verdi: Il trovatore
Indra Thomas*/Karen Slack (Leonora), Dongwon Shin (Manrico), Malcolm McKenzie (Conte di Luna), Mary Phillips (Azucena), Peter Volpe (Ferrando), David Margulis (Ruiz), Bevin Hill (Inez), Paul Nicosia (Messenger), Earl Hazell (An Old Gypsy)
Arizona Opera Orchestra and Chorus, Henri Venanzi (Chorus Master), Joel Revzen (Conductor)
John Hoomes (Director), Douglas Provost (Scenic/Lighting/Projection Designer), Andrea Robertson (Fight Director), Jons & Sons, Baltimore (Costumes)

M. Mackenzie (Courtesy of AZO)

Arizona Opera is celebrating Verdi’s 200th birthday with an exciting new production of Il trovatore. Chances are opera goers all over the world will have their ears saturated with Verdi and Wagner by the end of 2013. So many La traviata, Aida (“L’Arena di Verona” is even offering two different productions of Aida this Summer!), Rigoletto (and yes, even a Rigoletto set in Las Vegas in the 1960’s at the Metropolitan Opera), et al! Always the same warhorses, everywhere, as if it were just an ordinary opera season with, too frequently, the wild imaginings of some uninspired directors. But shouldn’t this bicentennial be the occasion to exhume, for a change, lesser known pieces like Giovanna d’Arco, I masnadieri, I due Foscari, Alzira, or Un giorno di regno, to name just a few of his hardly-ever-performed operas, let alone his non-operatic music? We’d be curious to know where and by whom his interesting String quartet in E minor, his Adagio for trumpet and orchestra, his Capriccio for bassoon and orchestra, or his sinfonias will be performed in 2013…

Anyway, who wouldn’t welcome back Il trovatore in Phoenix after an eighteen-year absence? Incidentally, this production boasts to be the first to have been rehearsed in Arizona’s brand new Opera Center, a $8.5 Million state of the art project located in Phoenix’s art district. Phase one 1 (a 28,000 square foot rehearsal space, a 300-seat performance venue and orchestra loft) was recently completed, while phase 2 (administrative offices, box office, wig, costume, and make-up shops) is expected to open next month.

John Hoomes’ straightforward direction remains within the boundaries of tasteful tradition. With massive and ominous sets, meticulous details, dramatic projections, the storyline unfolds before us with unquestionable strength and vigor. The entire concept exudes what Il trovatore is supposed to exude: blazing violence and delicate sensitivity. The plot has wrongly been described by some as nonsensical, recondite at best. By and large, it is not, and Hoomes’ approach delineates the fatal march towards the cataclysmic resolution with a clear sense of this Romantic drama.

Musically, this production is commendable. The major roles are cast to excellent singers. From “Mi vendica” in Act I to the final “Sei vendicata, madre”, Mary Phillips is a creditable Azucena with a wide tessitura, a warm low register and powerful high notes. Her “Stride la vampa” receives a well-deserved applause. Peter Volpe is a characterful and firmly sung Ferrando. Malcolm Mackenzie is a strong and incisive Conte di Luna, combining the elegance and the legato of a true Verdian baritone. Indra Thomas convinces as Leonora. The soaring curve of her rich vocal line in “Tacea la notte placida” sets the style of the performance with tension consistently held at the highest levels. She carries this multi-faceted role with grace, and a remarkable sense of Romantic belcanto. The trills and ornate passages of Act IV's "D'amor sull'ali rosee" are well in place and effortless.

I. Thomas (Courtesy of AZO)

Tenor Dongwon Shin is a typical spinto. He has the required bravura, a ringing high register and the high C’s are executed with stunning ease in “Di quelle pira”. But this singer is more heroic and gutsy than subtle. Maybe he should consider polishing his legato line while distancing himself from the “park-and-bark” tenors of the past. Shin is very close to the ideal Manrico and certainly has the potential of becoming a sought-after singer for this repertoire. AZ Opera Chorus, as always, is well prepaired by Henry Venanzi. The delivery of the Anvil Chorus, of “Echegi la tromba” and the “Miserere” are impressive.

Joel Revzen leads the Arizona Opera Orchestra with great attention to details. He knows that the orchestration does not find Verdi at his most refined and that the singers have to create the breadth and beauty of tone. Nonetheless, the orchestral performance is intense, yet elegant, fresh and direct.

Caruso once said of Il trovatore that all it needs is the “four greatest singers in the world.” Maybe we did not have the greatest performers in the world last night, but clearly they offered a powerful, full-blooded and well sung Trovatore.

Arizona Opera has announced its 2013-2014 season. It comprises Der fliegende Holländer, La bohème, La traviata, Don Pasquale, and Gilbert and Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore.

Christian Dalzon



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