Il trovatore, ROH 17.iv.09

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Stephen Jay-Taylor

Apr 18, 2009, 1:20:40 AM4/18/09
As dull and unsatisfying a Trovatore as I've ever witnessed.

Chief culprit : Carlo Rizzi, who conducts with a primping, mincing
little sense of decorous balletic oom-pah-pah entirely bereft of
passion, energy, or drive, reminiscent of Bonynge at his worst, just
so much lady-like metronomic chug-chug. Kills the opera stone dead. Of
the blazing commitment stamped all over the last revival two years ago
by Nicola Luisotti, nary a trace.

Next chief culprit : Moshinsky's bland, boring, bloated, utterly
meaningless staging in Dante Ferreti's poverty-row Zeffirelli-lite
irrelevant sets that take forever to change ( though nothing actually
does much, especially in the second half, where we're stuck with some
C19th Mexican brick cantina throughout, with added cannon, or prison
bars, so wide even Stephanie Blythe could walk straight through them,
or the preposterous railway station in which Leonora is about to take
her nunly vows. As one does.)

Alagna is no Manrico, and considerably less so than Alvarez last time,
who managed both a suaver sense of line where needed - a most
beautifully phrased, lyrically sustained "Ah si, ben mio" - and
rattled as much rafters as require rattling hereabouts in the arse-
achingly silly cabaletta thereafter. Lasagna instead, semi-tone down,
gave us the only second verse heard all night, and at the end, not so
much in the footlights as teetering out over the pit, let fly with
such a forced B that it turned astonishingly sharp and could actually
have been the unwritten C he'd tried to avoid in the first place.
Ludicrous. Otherwise, the voice was in fair estate, though with that
thick, clothy, curdling middle I so dislike much in evidence. Pace
everyone else, I find his acting perfectly serviceable, and at close
quarters he can indeed be seen assiduously to involve himself in what
little drama the staging permits.

I don't like Radvanovsky's voice much in this, big to no expressive
purpose beyond loud, totally without the kinds of musical refinements
that Leonora alas requires in spades - trills, gruppetti, properly-
bound legato, tonally secure soft-singing - and which a fair few of
the monstres sacrées of the past did have in my experience. Much of
her performance seemed geared more toward the interpolated unwritten
high notes, which I will wearily go to my grave trying to point out
cuts precious little ice here. It just seems showy and vulgar, and
inconsiderate to colleagues with better musical manners. "Di tale
amor" was a mess, the voice quite unable to focus the opening notes,
and incapable of the trill that follows. But though the voice lacks
essentially Italianate portamento as well, I suspect she'd be
perfectly aceptable in the later Verdi donna di forza roles like
Amelia, Aida, Forza Leonora, maybe Elisabetta and Desdemona ( though
she doesn't have the ideally larmoyante pathos for the latter two )
since none of them require the kind of rapid manoeuvring around
chopped noodles and trills and mordants that Leonora certainly does.
It's a "slow" voice, ill-suited to hurtling around tight corners
( even at Rizzi's ridiculous one-two-three tempi d'obbligo ). It's
Tosca sized too, and I can well imagine her in the role ( and would be
far happier if she were singing it here in July rather than Voigt )
but my real feeling is that she's strayed into entirely the wrong
repertoire, and ought really to be singing Senta, studying her first
Sieglinde, and contemplating Isolde.

I rather think the same, mutatis mutandis, about Hvorostovsky, whom
I'm tired of having to describe as miscast in Verdi, though he is. His
opening scene in Act I ii was shockingly approximate both as to pitch
and note value, just a series of vaguely pitched blusters, in fact,
but he steadied thereafter, and "Il balen" was the usual smooth
outpouring, only slightly marred by the unnecessary forcing he
subjects his voice to at the climax. Rather like Alagna, he has a bad
rap for woodenness which I don't think merited: he sees to me to be
perfectly wrapped up in proceedings, to which he is both attentive and
responsive, and fights a mean duel. Wooden is what Michaels-Moore was
last time, in spades, and he doesn't even have Hvor's voice, let alone
a real Verdian baritone.

Frankly, I don't know what is going on at Covent Garden that anyone
could have thought the mezzo, Malgorzata Walewska, was a fit piece of
casting as Azucena. Though she's young - visibly years younger than
her "son", in fact - the sound reminded me of late-period
( current ? ) Baltsa, with at least three completly different voices
going on simultaneously unacquainted with each other, including a most
alarming excursion down below into pure drag act, with wildly
approximate pitch - the recit prefacing "Condotta era' in ceppi" was
part of Pierrot Lunaire - and generally blowsy, squally delivery. I
mean, come on Katona, I saw Cossotto and Arkhipova and Blythe. This
just won't do.

Unequivocally the finest singing of the night came from Mikhail
Petrenko, as Ferrando, who sang the racconto with such rich, sonorous,
evenly-knit black-chocolate timbre that not for the first time I
wished the character had more - much, much more - to sing. Otherwise,
not even the curate's egg, though for that most of the blame attaches
to Rizzi, since in truth, Blythe and Alvarez apart, the last revival
was hardly stunning - Naglestad hanging on for dear life, Michaels-
Moore redefining woofly and passé - but Luisotti made it thrillingly
memorable. No such memories to cherish this time round, alas



Apr 18, 2009, 3:05:27 PM4/18/09

Well, it looks like the only thing satisfying about the Trovatore to
you was how unsatisfying it was <g>. We all have those performances,
and it's one of the enjoyable things about opera, fortunately or not.

I have access to a performance from London, though I haven't listened
yet, but I am a bit of two minds about your review. On the one hand,
there's no arguing with taste, and if Rizzi was as bad as you say,
that would clearly account for a difference from the MET performances,
which were also intensely rehearsed, which I don't believe these were.
I am certainly now eager to hear it.

But I also think you go beyond reviewing what you heard to kind of
taking some of the singers apart personally, and although it's your
right, it's also something which I think can tend to limit the
effectiveness of anyone's comments.

The most clear manifestation to me is when you write,

Much of
> her performance seemed geared more toward the interpolated unwritten
> high notes, which I will wearily go to my grave trying to point out
> cuts precious little ice here. It just seems showy and vulgar, and
> inconsiderate to colleagues with better musical manners.

I'm tempted to ask, "How to do possibly know this?" but that's a
'gotcha' comment, and the least of it, I think. It seems improbable to
me - unless there are some new interpolations for London, she did the
same interpolations I suspect in New York, with Hvor, certainly a
major worldwide star, and with a different conductor, and I didn't
hear a word about his discontent here.....he's apparently friendly
with Sondra, they've sung together and recorded together in the past,
and I can't see it coming from him for London. It seems unlikely it's
from Alagna, since, as you indicate, he did his own interpolations.
Who would have objected, or been more musically inclined? The Azucena
whom you thought was substandard? The Ruiz?

The "interpolated unwritten" high notes which I am aware of that
Sondra took in New York at the C# to end Act I, one C" in the
Miserere, and a C" in the duet. The C# is sung by every soprano who
has one, including Leontyne Price, Scotto and Caballe. The Misere C
goes back at least as far as Madame Ponselle. I think the C" in the
duet is a little bit odder as a note, and I personally don't like it,
but it's one note, and there's a pretty good tradition of it. The
other Cs (for example, in the duet with the baritone in Act IV) are
so ubiquitous, although also not in the score, going back the earliest
recordings I've heard, that I challenge you to find a single single
singer who omits them. Not Callas, not Tebaldi.

In a word, I think that while she may very well not have been good on
the night you were there - I think that you are really for whatever
reason taking the stuffing out of the singer for reasons besides the
performance and the context of it. Again, that's your right, but I
think it tends to color the review.

As to the coloratura and her management of that, she is the leading
exponent of Helene in the world today, and I don't think has problems
in particular with the little notes. At least in New York (I really
don't know about London and its history of performance of this work)
she was one of the few to sing the tempo di mezzo section in the
fourth act, which is no piece of cake, and did it extremely well
(interpolating a C at the end, as every singer who has ever done the
role and the aria has done). She doesn't have the easiest trill, but
certainly you'd agree (I hope) that it's much more of a trill than
Caballe, for example, ever had. At least in New York, she had no
difficulty with the coloratura.

I get that you don't like her much in this, and that's fine - I don't
know her, never met her, and until the last couple of years when the
voice began darkening I was not really a fan either - I thought that
it was too steely and cold an instrument for me. She may also have
sung badly the night you heard her or be less happy with less

But I do think that there's more 'at stake' in your review than the
performances - and there's nothing wrong with that, I do the same
thing, and so did my peer Monsieur Beyle - but I think it's also not
inappropriate for me to point that out if I see it.

I would be very curious to know a list of five Leonoras you've heard -
since you talk about the monstres sacrees you've heard in the past in
this role, who presumably do it better and without the interpolations
and with better exactness in the coloratura.


On Apr 18, 1:20 am, Stephen Jay-Taylor <>


Apr 18, 2009, 6:44:21 PM4/18/09
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Addressing the interpolation of Leonora's unwritten high notes, I have
heard them all from other sopranos a long while before Radvanovsky.
The first time I ever heard the C in the middle of the two sections of
the duet with the baritone in the final act was in the now famous
Salzburg performance from 1962, conducted by Karajan, where Leontyne
Price sings it. "Lo giuro a Dio" with the upward leap to the C on the
Price never once, to my knowledge, sang that note in her many
Trovatore performances at the Met, of which I saw perhaps 20 over the
years, if not more.

The only other soprano who I have heard, in person, sing this
particular high C, was one named Caballe. She did a run of Trovatore
performances in 1973, also with Cossotto, Domingo, Merrill, and at the
very last performance, in which Tucker replaced Domingo, Caballe threw
in every unwritten high note I had every heard, and few that I have
never heard, before or since. I saw three other performances during
this run, and she did not sing any of these interpolations at any of
the other three performances that I saw, or during the broadcast that
season. I reasoned that it was her final show of the run, and she said
to herself, "the hell with it. Tonight I let everything fly!"

Getting back to Sondra, she has sung Trovatore well over 150 times in
her relatively short (9 years) major career. I would have to say that
most feel she is well suited to the role, and I am among them. She is
far and away the best Leonora singing today. And in many performances
that I have seen with her, she did not take any of these unwritten
high notes, because the Maestri told her not to. I am glad the NY and
London conductors let her "let it all fly."

BTW, she will be singing her first Tosca during the upcoming season,
first in Denver, and then, a year or two later, I believe, in Chicago.
She will be returning to the Met as Aida in two years, and is
contemplating Ballo and Forza. The main reason that she hasn't sung
these roles yet is that she hasn't been asked to sing them. Seems that
most companies keep offering her Trovatore! Yet she has sung many "off
the beaten track" operas, such as L. Borgia, Stiffelio, Rusalka, and
her first Puccini with Manon Lescaut and Suor Angelica, the latter of
which I saw and was overwhelmed. She also did a very successful run of
Don Carlo performances at the Met a couple of seasons ago. She will
also be doing this opera in Paris about a year from now.

I also do not believe that any of her colleagues object at all to her
singing the unwritten high notes in Trovatore. Singers usually "root"
for each other, as I have often heard from many singers over the

As for Alagna being less good than Alvarez, well, I don't agree. Based
on the broadcast I heard of Alagna from the London opening, and seeing
Alvarez six times this season, I would say that are equally poor in
this role.Aagna at the Met this past season or two as Romeo, Radames
(yes, I was there for his one Radames, and he aquitted himself well,
though it is certainly not a Radames voice.) His two or three Romeo
performances last year were suprisingly fine, and his Cav & Pag about
a month or so ago were not great, but better than I thought they would
be. At least he doesn't croon, but I must say I was disappointed when
I heard his Trovatore broadcast from a week ago Monday. He came to
grief during both the aria and cabaletta, and indeed the final note of
the Pira was a very sharp, stragulated shout.



Apr 18, 2009, 9:30:58 PM4/18/09
On Apr 18, 1:20 am, Stephen Jay-Taylor <>

I am a bit less disappointed, then, that I was unable to get tickets.
( I was in London then), Instead, spent a really delightful evening
dining with British friends.

We saw the ballet Giselle in London (excellent), and three plays. Had
a wonderful stay, as usual, despite awful weather.



Apr 19, 2009, 12:23:06 AM4/19/09
I've gone back, by the way, to sample the 75 Caballe Trovatore from
Covent Garden. By then she doesn't take the C# which is in evidence in
earlier recordings or the Miserer C - because she doesn't have it any
more, in the case of the C# - but I certainly don't hear much more
accuracy in the trills - the cadential trills are almost always just
not even attempted, and she only hits a few of the very soft ones in
the D'amor. She does indeed sing the cabaletta (I referred to it as
the tempo di mezzo below, but that (the Miserere) everyone sings -
it's obviously the cabaletta Tu vedrai that few sing - but she
manifestly cheats on it, leaving out notes throughout, and of course
inserting that top C, which is nowhere in the score. She also drops
out in the fourth act Vivra with Milnes at the end so that she can
interpolate a high C at the end of the duet, and holds it as long as
she can (Bravo!), including to some extent over the barline back into
the home tonic chord.

I like the Caballe performance a great deal, and I loved Cabvalle the
singer, as even my most recent comments on her last Avery Fisher
joint recital made clear - don't get me wrong - but it's no more
accurate singing than Sondra, there are fewer trills (by far, and
those that exist are really kind of like aspirates than real 'trills'
- that she just didn't have) - and there is just a fair amount of
running out of breath and leaving out notes to prepare for high notes,
with SR just doesn't have to do, and she often omits consonants in the
upper part of the range. There's absolutely no doubt that it's a much
sweeter sound than SR, and much more pointed....the Spanish singer has
real strengths, and do remember that she is one of those singers I
went to hear every chance I got. But I think that on the criteria
mentioned, SR is simply not lagging at all, and I consider it a far
worse sin, if sin it is, to actually drop out for a few bars before
singing an unwritten high note, as Caballe was wont to do throughout
her career, than merely to interpolate the high note without droping
out and not singing the measures leading up to the high note? How can
anyone who is interested in the 'score' sanction that? It doesn't
bother me at all - this is musical theatre, not precision engineering,
and I think not a bit less of Caballe for doing it, but if SR is
guilty of midemeanors here, Caballe is a felon.

By the way, Milnes sounds unbearable here (in the fourth act duet).


On Apr 18, 3:05 pm, Richergar <> wrote:

Steve Silverman

Apr 20, 2009, 6:33:51 AM4/20/09
"Richergar" <> wrote in message

> By the way, Milnes sounds unbearable here (in the fourth act duet).

I find most of this recording (mine is on the Bella Voce label) pretty
unlistenable from a technical perspective. The mic(s) are too close and the
fortes are overblown and distorted. On top of that higher-frequencies are
over-accentuated throughout, making the brighter voices thin and

Steve Silverman


Apr 20, 2009, 8:33:04 AM4/20/09
I have the performance on the Bella Voce (sic) label, and it's just
the opposite - very tubby and 'in a bathroom' in the acoustics. I
suspect the original tape is a mess and there's not a good way to fix


On Apr 20, 6:33 am, "Steve Silverman" <> wrote:
> "Richergar" <> wrote in message

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