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Firm favourite still shows its class

Dario Solari (Count di Luna) and Katia Pellegrino (Leonora). Pictures: Brian Tarr

Il trovatore

Welsh National Opera

Birmingham Hippodrome

**** 

FIRST performed in 1853, Verdi's Il travatore is still a firm audience favourite  more than 150 years on and is a staple of the repertoire of most opera companies.

Welsh National Opera production, is set in 15th century Spain, sung in Italian and is based on the first version of Guttierez's play El Trovador under the imaginative direction of Peter Watson. 

The performance is entertaining and polished. The collective talent of the whole cast and chorus is remarkable.  However, the opera never promised to have a happy conclusion and, thankfully, I didn't warm to the characters enough to care. 

This is complicated story, with complicated relationships and the surtitles were a welcome aid.  The tale tells of Count di Luna, a bereaved brother searching for the murderer of his younger brother, his love for the pitiful and lovelorn Leonora who loves another; Manrico, the lute playing trovatore. the troubadour of the title.  

Sian Meinir  as Inez, Leonora's confidante

You do need to take a leap of faith to believe he is the youthful Manrico though.  The story also tells of a mother's anguish at throwing her own son on the pyre in a demented moment as her own mother is burnt at the stake and of the pitiful, lovelorn Leonora who makes the fateful and fatal choice between her two suitors.  The audience appreciated the individual performances and there was even the odd Bravo.  The orchestra, lead by David Adams, played wonderfully. 

The scenery is very dark and full of doom and gloom with gargantuan curved blocks of wood which are visually impressive and interchangeable depicting the castle walls, a convent, the castle ramparts where the soldiers train.

It did seem to be rather over-ambitious though and the noisy, tedious set changes lead to a loss of momentum between scenes with the audience chattering distractedly.  The lighting added another dimension to the stage, at times emphasising the demeanour of the characters and depicting the fire which is central to the story. 

Particular note must be made of the individual performances. Opening with David Soar as Ferrando, the leader of Count di Luna's army.  He captures the attention of the audience from the very start as he sets the scene regaling to his men the reason they pursuit of the gypsy woman.  

Gwyn Hughes Jones is beautifully lyrical as he serenades his love, Leonora.  This is his debut in the role of Manrico, the lute playing troubadour. 

Mezzo, Veronica Simeoni is deeply moving in her role of Azucena, the gypsy woman sworn to avenge the death of her mother, and is particularly shocking as she describes the death of her mother at the stake.  

David Kempster, the dastardly Count di Luna, gives a commanding performance and received audience recognition for his breathe-defying very deep and very long note.  

Soprano, Katia Pellegrino who plays Leonora stole the third Act with an enthralling solo performance and received the longest applause of the evening for an individual performance.  

This production is dedicated to the members if the WNO Idloes Owen Society who willed gifts in support of the company. The production is performed again on Saturday, 12-03-11

Lynda Ford

And for an encore . . .

*****

A HINT of witchcraft, a bumper helping of love and rivalry, and a simmering desire for vengeance come to a head in Verdi's classic opera which is beautifully performed by the WNO.

While the sets and costumes are generally dark and brooding, the quality of the singing lights up the occasion, and on opening night there were many cries of "bravo" from the audience.

Twenty years after her gipsy mother was burned at the stake for witchcraft by the Count di Luna, her daughter Azucena - thought to have thrown the Count's baby son into the flames in reprisal - is still seeking revenge, and it comes with a cruel twist.

David Soar  as Ferrando, Count di Luna's officer

Veronica Simeoni impresses as Azucena, and there is a powerful performance from David Kempster as the Count's successor whose love for lady-in-waiting Leonara brings him into conflict with rival Manrico, a troubadour regularly serenading her.

Gwyn Hughes Jones sings superbly as Manrico, with Katia Pellegrino an absolute delight in the role of Leonora, and the pair sparkle in passionate duets before the opera ends, inevitably, in tragedy.

The chorus work is outstanding, too, and the orchestra of the WNO, conducted by Andrea Licata, earn top marks.

Sung in Italian with English surtitles, Il Trovatore closes on Saturday night 12.03.11

Paul Marston 

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