VERDI’s notoriously complicated and bloody Il trovatore is reduced to the bare minimum in Peter Watson’s staging with the voices having all the work to do on a stark set.
And the WNO does not disappoint.
Celebrated Welsh tenor Gwyn Hughes Jones sings Manrico (the eponymous troubadour) beautifully with soaring duets with love interest Leonora (soprano Katia Pellegrino whose expressive arms detract at times); and baritone David Kempster impresses (after a breathy start) as the villain of the piece Count di Luna.
Tim Hatley’s set of burnished copper is towering and foreboding. Several curved pieces and huge pillars are formed and reformed (in overlong pauses between scenes) to become a convent, gypsy and army camp, prison and fort.
Davy Cunningham’s lighting is gloomy and the costumes understated as Simon Phillippo tightly controls Verdi’s traditional occocento score (his last before breaking free for La traviata later the same year) milking the brooding dramatic melodies and spotlighting the soaring lyricism.
Often branded an opera for four voices, mezzo soprano Joanne Thomas completes the quartet as the wretched gypsy Azucena whose actions on a day some 15 years before dictate the scenario now on stage.
Witnessing her own mother being burned at the stake, she stole the Count’s younger brother and then, in a bid to satisfy the dying woman’s plea for vengeance, mistakenly threw her own baby on the pyre instead. Aghast she kept the young Count and raised him as her own.
The scene is set years later the blood brothers are rivals for the hand of the lovely Leonora, opposing leaders of skirmishes for the castle while the Count di Luna seeks to find the son his dying father believes to still live and Azucena waits her chance to avenge her mother through her adopted child.
Yes, well – the usual suspension of belief is helpful as is more than a nodding acquaintance with the power of coincidence. As ever, there is not enough of the chorus who delight as gypsies (particularly the renowned Anvil Chorus) and soldiers (Now we play at dice). Opera at its most monumental – hardly a barrel of laughs but an intense treat. Just shame about the long scene changes which break the momentum.