November 15th, 2004

Florentine Opera, “Il Trovatore,” 11/14/04

For this season’s opener with Milwaukee’s Florentine Opera, we heard a really excellent rendition of Verdi’s “Il Trovatore,” (“The Troubadour.). I say “heard” rather than “saw” since the production wasn’t really much to look at: the stage direction was very static, sets grim vertical planes augmented with grotesque oversized symbolic pieces (massive chains in the dungeon scene, for example) and the costumes rather drab, although at least tasteful and all in the same period. But in opera, it’s all about the voices, and there, we had nothing whatever to complain of. The opera has a marginal plot: its four acts, eight scenes read like the “good parts version” of a Gothic novel, with revenge and hidden identities being the motivators. The Opera brought together a formidable cast, only one of whom, Donnie Ray Albert, as the Count de Luna, has sung there before. Albert has a big rich baritone voice that held up well in relation to the spectacular newcomers. Lori Phillips was the first to really treat the audience with her soprano aria in the second scene. Her voice filled the hall easily and made the welkins ring. Venetian Renzo Zulian, in the title role of Manrico, had a marvelous heroic tenor voice and sang with remarkable power: his held high note a the end of Act Three set us back in our seats, and was an accomplishment we had not even heard on Metropolitan Opera broadcasts. Fine as these were, the real standout was Ewa Podles, who was performing Azucena, the obsessive gypsy, for the first time. Especially in her low register, her voice was so deep, dark, and round that it seemed more like some horn or woodwind than from a human throat, which made her spooky arias very haunting indeed.