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A welcome return of Verdi’s great work

The Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts
09/29/2012 -  & October 2*, 5, 10, 13, 19, 21, 25, 28, 31, 2012
Giuseppe Verdi: Il trovatore
Ramón Vargas (Manrico), Elza van den Heever (Leonora), Elena Manistina (Azucena), Russell Braun (Il Conte di Luna), Dmitry Belosselskiy (Ferrando), Rihab Chaieb (Inez), Edgar Ernesto Ramírez (Ruiz), Robert Gleadow (Old Gypsy), Owen McCausland (Messenger)
The Canadian Opera Company Chorus, Sandra Horst (Chorus Master), The Canadian Opera Company Orchestra, Marco Guidarini (Conductor)
Charles Roubaud (Director), Jean-Noël Lavesvre (Set Designer), Katia Duflot (Costume Designer), Marc Delamézière (Lighting Designer)

R. Vargas, E. Van den Heever & R. Braun (© Michael Cooper)

In handsome settings borrowed from l’Opéra de Marseille, the Canadian Opera Company’s Il trovatore is a treat musically and, above all, vocally.

Conductor Marco Guidarini was last here in 2009 when he conducted a magisterial Simon Boccanegra. His approach to this earlier vigorous work is to downplay the hammering and bashing while bringing out the soaring Bellinian lines in the score.

Happily the main roles are all given to singers who are fully capable of the composer’s and conductor’s demands. Three are making their role debuts, the exception being Elena Ministina in the ultra-dramatic role of Azucena. In this performance her initial scene had a somewhat tentative quality but she subsequently turned up the heat.

Elza van den Heever as Leonora has a steady, youthful voice that manages the soft singing in a truly dreamlike manner. She also voices the melancholic colours with which Verdi imbued the role.

Ramón Vargas as Manrico once again displays the generous, ringing tone that so impressed the COC audience at the company’s 60th anniversary gala three years ago. If the ultimate note in "Di quella pira" was rather brief, he did achieve it. (It’s a pity this note receives such scrutiny, especially as it is one that Verdi did not include in his score. But there it unavoidably is.)

The role of the Conte di Luna is Russell Braun’s first Verdi role and, like the other principals, he has the requisite firmness and breath control, not mention a rich, warm tone, ideal for what is arguably the most beautiful aria ever composed, "Il balen del suo sorriso". A slight huskiness crept into his voice at some moments - a somewhat off-night perhaps?

Dmitry Belosselskiy is superbly capable in the fifth main role, that of Ferrando, the count’s captain.

Jean-Noël Levesvre has devised attractive sets that manage to give an impression of traditional designs for each of the eight scenes called for, but with an expressionist twist in that certain design elements are more than life-size. Eloquent, moody lighting enhances the mood. One drawback is that the curtain is lowered for each of the scene changes - thus, in each act, the curtain comes down three times while the audience has to wait while the sense of drama dissipates. The kind of scenic flow we expect in Shakespeare’s plays would have been welcome.

The action is set in 1409 and involves historical events that hardly anyone today knows anything about. Still, the 19th century costumes (with the count's soldiers in the first scene wearing long underwear) render references to burning at the stake a bit of a puzzlement.

A degree of conventional direction also hampers the action at times. The scene where the count’s well-armed soldiers fail to prevent Manrico and his henchmen making off with Leonora (Act II, Scene II) provides fodder to those who have denigrated the work since soon after its premiere 159 years ago. Still, Il Trovatore soldiers on, as well it should.

Given (once again) the COC’s careful preparation time for every production, the orchestra and chorus are up to their usual high standard.

To sum up: despite of a few reservations, this production is a vocal feast and a worthy presentation of a great and noble work.

Michael Johnson



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