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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, January 18, 2019 - Volume 47 Issue 03
Seattle Opera's Il Trovatore
Arts & Entertainment
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Seattle Opera's Il Trovatore

An excellent cast, followed by a great one

by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

SEATTLE OPERA
IL TROVATORE
BY GUISEPPE VERDI
LIBRETTO BY
SALVATORE CAMMARANO
MARION OLIVER MCCAW HALL
January 12 & 13
Continuing through 1/26


The new production of Verdi's Il Trovatore at Seattle Opera packs such a thrilling punch that even my 80-year-old body pumped teenaged adrenalin again and again at Saturday's opening night performance. Then, much to my glee, Sunday's matinee cast with new singers in four of the leading roles carried us to even greater heights with superior singing all around. (See Alice Bloch's review in this paper for a beautiful description of what happened Sunday. I'll focus on the singers.)

Some call this opera Verdi's masterpiece, in spite of its crazy plot, for it gives singers some of the most beautiful music in all opera. But the four lead roles are vocally very demanding of vocal strength, dramatic punch, and sheer stamina. Each singer on opening night had these qualities. So, why were they less effective than their counterparts the next afternoon? It came down to musicality. The most beautiful notes have little effect if they are not strung together into a good legato line. The sound must flow evenly from note to note. For a perfect example, hear almost any Ella Fitzgerald record from her prime. Then, within each line, the volume should rise or fall (or not), according to what's being expressed.

Saturday's Count Di Luna, baritone Lester Lynch, had a gorgeous, round sound but lacked the technique to sustain that tone evenly through each line. His plummy warmth of tone reminded me of Gordon Hawkins, but he lacked the breath support to keep it flowing. The sonic dropouts in each line sapped expressive power, almost as though he didn't really mean what he was saying. Sunday's Michael Mayes (Seattle debut) was much more nuanced and effective. He shaded his lines with dynamics that pointed to where they were going and underscored what he was saying.

Mezzo Elena Gabouri on opening night was all fire and guts in a full-throated performance as the gypsy Azucena but lacked the musicianship to tie those sometimes-shouted notes together into a musical statement. She gave 110 per cent, but I fear her voice may not last with such apparent punishment. Nora Sourouzian took a much more melodic approach Sunday afternoon. She was just as effective, all the while letting us hear Verdi's tunes that tended to be hidden behind Gabouri's outbursts.

The poorest singer Saturday evening was tenor Arnold Rawls as Manrico. He had sufficient power for the part, but his voice had a generic sound, lacking both warmth and beauty. And he failed the legato test. Instead of expressing the text, each line became a throaty exercise of getting the notes out. In contrast, tenor Martin Muehle (from Mannheim, Germany) on Sunday wowed us with a power and vocal beauty that brought back memories of the great Franco Corelli! In spite of being announced as somewhat indisposed with a cold, he poured out golden streams of gleaming tone, all wrapped in a perfectly smooth line. His tops were loaded with what opera aficionados call 'squillo,' that extra buzzy shine that makes one feel weak in the knees. It all seemed easy and natural, with no sign of strain.

Both performances gave us excellent Leonoras, but here again the Sunday matinee soprano, Centralia's own Angela Meade, outshone Saturday's wonderful Leah Crocetto by virtue of her superior instrument and technique. Both displayed excellent legato and sang with lovely tone, but Angela worked vocal magic at times that brought tears to my eyes. Examples: she tossed in incredibly beautiful high notes (not in the score) that floated over the orchestra on wings of pure delight, and her trills and other coloratura skills seemed effortless. Most impressive of all, those two ascending lines she sings as she is dying were spun out with a languid ease, ever so slow, growing ever more soft as she approached that last high note in pure pianissimo, all while lying horizontal in Manrico's arms. Utter magic! Very few sopranos can do this. Lisa Daltirus did it in an earlier production of Il Trovatore at Seattle Opera, but Leah Crocetto, at least in this performance, could not find her soft high notes.

Let me close by seconding Alice Bloch's praise of the Seattle Symphony and the Seattle Opera Chorus. I pride myself on the killer sound system of our home theater, but no recorded sound could come close to the thrill of this chorus singing the thundering 'Anvil Chorus' live. Performances of Seattle Opera's Il Trovatore continue through January 26, with the Saturday opening night cast singing on January 16, 20 and 25 and the Sunday matinee cast singing on January 19, 23 and 26.

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Seattle Opera's Il Trovatore
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