Chicago Opera Review: IL TROVATORE (Lyric Opera)

Post image for Chicago Opera Review: IL TROVATORE (Lyric Opera)

by Barnaby Hughes on November 20, 2018

in Music,Theater-Chicago


Perhaps Verdi’s most popular opera, Il Trovatore (The Troubadour) was revived at Lyric as recently as the 2014/15 season, which itself was a revival production. Now as then, audiences are transported back in time to experience Sir David McVicar’s Goya-esque interpretation of Verdi’s gypsy drama. While Charles Edwards set designs and Brigitte Reiffenstuel’s costume designs are no longer fresh, they have fared well over the past decade or so. What makes the current production new and exciting is the cast, which features three outstanding Lyric debuts by Polish baritone Artur Ruciński, Italian bass Roberto Tagliavini, and American soprano Tamara Wilson.

One of the three triumphs of Verdi’s “middle period,” Il Trovatore follows Rigoletto, seen last season, and precedes La Traviata, coming later this season. Did Lyric purposely schedule these operas in the order in which they were first performed? If so, it offers audiences a rare opportunity to compare these closely-related works.

Based on the 1836 play El Trovador by Antonio García Gutiérrez and adapted by Salvadore Cammarano, this rather sprawling story in four acts involves revenge, abduction and witchcraft, as well as bands of gypsies and warring soldiers. At the center of the story is the titular troubadour Manrico, his rival the Count di Luna, and the object of their affections, Leonora. Complicating this love triangle is the gypsy Azucena, who has raised Manrico as her own child. Her story only unfolds gradually and provides the plot’s major twists and turns as it reaches its vengeance-filled climax.

As Ferrando, the captain of the count’s troops, Tagliavini is a towering figure with a rich, expressive, and incredibly clear voice. The contrast with Andrea Silvestrelli’s previous performance in this role could not be greater. One hopes that Lyric will start casting terrific Tagliavini instead of stodgy Silvestrelli, whose too-frequent performances are too-often disappointing. Tagliavini’s opening monologue sets the bar high for the impressive voices that follow, especially his fellow first-timers.

Ruciński sings so silkily and smoothly, especially in his Act II aria “Il balen del suo sorriso,” and plays the Count di Luna with such nobility, that his otherwise despicable character actually becomes likeable, perhaps even preferable to our eponymous hero. It is quite an extraordinary feat. Wilson’s precise phrasing and emotional expressiveness make her an excellent and sensitively-rendered Leonora, especially in the lilting waltz of “Di tale amor che dirsi” and the heartfelt sighs of “D’amor sull’ali rosee.”

Fortunately, Lyric does not make the same casting error that led to the mismatched Korean tenor Yonghoon Lee as Manrico, who was drowned out by his fellow principals in the previous production. Instead, Lyric gives us the powerhouse Russell Thomas, who appeared in Norma two seasons ago. Thomas isn’t the most subtle actor or the most convincing romantic lead, but his soaring, full-throated tenor is outstanding to listen to, particularly when accompanied by a single harp.

Mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton, last seen in the 2014/15 season’s Anna Bolena, returns as the vengeful Azucena, whose angry whirlwind of an aria “Stride la vampa” follows the justly famous Anvil Chorus. The return of the Lyric Opera Chorus under Michael Black is all the more welcome after their absence in Siegfried. Here, they provide a neat balance between choral and solo singing and drive the plot inexorably along, which is one of the reasons why this opera is so exciting — even if the plot is rather convoluted.

In sum, this is an excellent revival of an earlier production and it boasts a far superior cast of new and familiar faces. And Verdi’s memorable and stirring score makes it one of the composer’s best and beloved efforts. Stay tuned for his similarly-named La Traviata in February, but first Jules Massenet’s take on the classic Cinderella story.

photos by Todd Rosenberg

Il Trovatore
Lyric Opera of Chicago
Civic Opera House
20 N. Wacker Drive
ends on December 9, 2018
for tickets, call 312.827.5600 or visit Lyric Opera

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Rowena Shepard November 20, 2018 at 5:59 pm

Love Ruciński a lot – such a beautiful voice, amazing breath control, and he’s quite dashing too 😉 Although to be honest, I’ve had a crush on Count di Luna since I was 12. Leonora needs glasses.


Leave a Comment