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Il Trovatore at the Los Angeles Opera

Cut context, create confusion

Given the current circumstances, San Diego Opera is producing two mainstage opera productions this season. What is an opera fan to do with that? Two productions just aren’t enough to satiate some the most dedicated in our ranks. With that in mind, I traveled up to LA Opera on Wednesday, September 22, for their new production of Verdi’s Il Trovatore. I got on the freeway around 3:15 pm and arrived in time to make my 6 pm dinner reservation. The restaurant was about a half-mile walk from the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion. I had planned to make a reservation at either LA Prime or Otium, but both restaurants were booked for the pre-opera times. If you are considering a trip north, make your reservations early.

Prior to entering the theater, I had my vaccination status checked and received a yellow bracelet confirming that I was good to enter. However, masks were still required while indoors. An announcement reminded the audience that masks were required even when the lights went down.

Since this was a new production, I was expecting something other than the traditional setting in 15th-century Spain. This was indeed the case. I have no problem with non-traditional productions when they are well executed well and support the singers and the narrative. This production was well-conceived in some ways, but the execution was inconsistent, and committed unforced errors such as the removal of context. Post-modernism and Critical Theory are based, in part, on the neglect of context. And removing context from Il Trovatore makes it a difficult opera to follow. I’ve been in the opera twice, and have listened to it umpteen million times, but I found myself struggling at times to follow both the action and the narrative in this production.

The singing from bass Morris Robinson was excellent. Unfortunately, Mr. Robinson was not a part of the principal quartet. He performed the secondary role of Ferrando. The principal cast was good-to-quite-good in their singing and stage presence. But the stage presence of every singer was sabotaged by the production. The stark set and lack of basic props gave the cast nothing to play off of — oftentimes forcing singers to move from here to there based on nothing specific in the text or setting.

Video:

Il Trovatore at the LA Opera

Tenor Limmie Pullman performed the title role of Manrico. Mr. Pullman is an emerging artist and sang bravely throughout the evening. He is potentially a great singer but at this point, he is still developing. The role of Manrico’s rival, Count di Luna, was sung by baritone Vladimir Stoyanov. Mr. Stoyanov delivered some solid singing, but the top notes could have been more focused. Manrico and di Luna are fighting for the attention of Leonora. Soprano Guanqun Yu sang the role well, but her top notes were inconsistent, and I found her portrayal of Leonora to be somewhat retiring as opposed to heroic.

In my opinion, mezzo-soprano Raehann Bryce-Davis provided the most compelling performance of the evening in the role of Azucena, Manrico’s vendetta-obsessed mother. Her low notes filled the house and portrayed Azucena’s thirst for vengeance against the house of di Luna. On the whole, I found the evening to be a solid presentation of a difficult opera.

[Editor's note: this story ran in the October 7 print edition of the Reader. We regret the delay in posting it online.]

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Given the current circumstances, San Diego Opera is producing two mainstage opera productions this season. What is an opera fan to do with that? Two productions just aren’t enough to satiate some the most dedicated in our ranks. With that in mind, I traveled up to LA Opera on Wednesday, September 22, for their new production of Verdi’s Il Trovatore. I got on the freeway around 3:15 pm and arrived in time to make my 6 pm dinner reservation. The restaurant was about a half-mile walk from the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion. I had planned to make a reservation at either LA Prime or Otium, but both restaurants were booked for the pre-opera times. If you are considering a trip north, make your reservations early.

Prior to entering the theater, I had my vaccination status checked and received a yellow bracelet confirming that I was good to enter. However, masks were still required while indoors. An announcement reminded the audience that masks were required even when the lights went down.

Since this was a new production, I was expecting something other than the traditional setting in 15th-century Spain. This was indeed the case. I have no problem with non-traditional productions when they are well executed well and support the singers and the narrative. This production was well-conceived in some ways, but the execution was inconsistent, and committed unforced errors such as the removal of context. Post-modernism and Critical Theory are based, in part, on the neglect of context. And removing context from Il Trovatore makes it a difficult opera to follow. I’ve been in the opera twice, and have listened to it umpteen million times, but I found myself struggling at times to follow both the action and the narrative in this production.

The singing from bass Morris Robinson was excellent. Unfortunately, Mr. Robinson was not a part of the principal quartet. He performed the secondary role of Ferrando. The principal cast was good-to-quite-good in their singing and stage presence. But the stage presence of every singer was sabotaged by the production. The stark set and lack of basic props gave the cast nothing to play off of — oftentimes forcing singers to move from here to there based on nothing specific in the text or setting.

Video:

Il Trovatore at the LA Opera

Tenor Limmie Pullman performed the title role of Manrico. Mr. Pullman is an emerging artist and sang bravely throughout the evening. He is potentially a great singer but at this point, he is still developing. The role of Manrico’s rival, Count di Luna, was sung by baritone Vladimir Stoyanov. Mr. Stoyanov delivered some solid singing, but the top notes could have been more focused. Manrico and di Luna are fighting for the attention of Leonora. Soprano Guanqun Yu sang the role well, but her top notes were inconsistent, and I found her portrayal of Leonora to be somewhat retiring as opposed to heroic.

In my opinion, mezzo-soprano Raehann Bryce-Davis provided the most compelling performance of the evening in the role of Azucena, Manrico’s vendetta-obsessed mother. Her low notes filled the house and portrayed Azucena’s thirst for vengeance against the house of di Luna. On the whole, I found the evening to be a solid presentation of a difficult opera.

[Editor's note: this story ran in the October 7 print edition of the Reader. We regret the delay in posting it online.]

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