A Journey to the Cabaletta-Land

A Journey to the Cabaletta-Land

Il Trovatore at the Canadian Opera Company, production by Opéra de Marseille. Conductor Marco Guidarini, director Charles Roubaud, Leonora Elza van den Heever, Conte di Luna Russell Braun, Manrico Ramón Vargas, Azucena Elena Manistina. Full cast & creative, performance dates here. Seen on October 2, 2012.

Everything in Il Trov last night worked against the possibility of the viewer being drawn in – being swept away by a composed-though, self-contained work of art. The opera itself is the reason enough: the plot, if you can call it that, is fragmentary and more an assemblage of scenes; the solos are more often stoppages than action movers as they recollect past traumatic events; you can disassemble the work easily into arias, duos etc. There are also too many things ending in a cabaletta — a quicker, independent, almost waltz-like conclusion to whatever’s been said before. Cabalettas in an opera full of tragic turns and long scenes of mourning are a most peculiar thing for a contemporary listener to find (over and over and over again). They keep piercing the dramatic fabric.

Then the director Charles Roubaud comes in and exacerbates – let’s presume, intentionally – all these loosely holding elements. Il Trovatore is presented as a proliferation of tableaux, neither very naturalistic or expecting you to suspend disbelief. The curtain closes between almost each scene and stays closed, sometimes for minutes, until the set changes. While the costumes (Katia Duflot) are traditional (basic and non-lavish, though), the set (Jean-Noel Lavesvre) is consistently stark and more on the stylized side — a Romanesque castle, the notes inform. The mountainous horizons are framed as paintings, and the long corridors presented as tromp-d’oeil curtains. So there are no attempts to shun artificiality in this most artificial opera. The effect is a certain alienation from the part of the viewer that is almost, erm, modernist. You’ll find yourself thinking, I can’t be bothered to get involved. I’ll wait for my favourite musical bits, and then a cabaletta will dis-engage me from those too.

That is how far the direction goes. There is no re-think of the work. There is just picking at its cracks. Which is a decent enough strategy, I suppose. There are those rare versions of Il Trovatore which will haunt all your future viewings – Chris Alden’s must be one of those, and Tcherniakov’s, the more I think about it, is probably like that. Roubaud’s is more a jobbing Verdi production that is adequate and perhaps just a little bit different.

Most people will come to see Il Trov waiting for their favourite arias anyway. In this department, Ramón Vargas was the confirmed star of the night. He looked much more svelte than in the Met in HD Don Giovanni transmission, and he sounded as spectacular as a tenor can. Russell Braun, Elena Manistina and Elza van den Heever were all fine individually, but the duets and trios somehow always gained an extra spark of excitement – what a crime, you’ll muse, that Wagner eliminated duos eccetera. This town has been spoiled by Sondra Radvanovsky in Verdian roles – when will she come back…? And on the thoughts go, to the pleasant music. Solid production, fine singing. Neither excessively involving.

Top photo: Russell Braun (behind) as Conte di Luna, Ramón Vargas as Manrico and Elza van den Heever as Leonora.

Bottom: l-r Elena Manistina as Azucena, Dmitry Belosselskiy as Ferrando and Russell Braun as Conte di Luna.

Both photos by Michael Cooper.


7 thoughts on “A Journey to the Cabaletta-Land

  1. Yeah… Kept thinking, he is mocking the opera traditionalists… When Leonora finishes her big anguished aria and the Miserere, and then suddenly gets into the groove — … I don’t know. But I do know that this is a good excuse to listen to this:

    1. I was thinking especially in Traviata where he uses the form as editorial comment to illustrate instances of testosterone o.d., but actually, he might well be doing it in Trovatore and it’s just hard to tell 🙂

      Love the Rad. Is this the Met? I think I need to add it to the ever-increasing acquisitions list.

      1. Apparently she sang Trov in 150 houses around the world… This may be McVicar’s at the Met, or the Chicago one…

        That’s interesting about Traviata…. Now I want to find an example. There goes my morning…

  2. Ah, Trovatore. I’m still waiting for a production that’ll haunt future viewings, but there is the music, and it’s a good excuse for Sondra Radvanovsky to strut her Verdian stuff (that is the Met production, I believe. I never see that far back on the stage, but the coat and the portcullis look familiar.) Fun fact about the structure: Verdi asked librettist Salvatore Cammarano (of Lucia etc fame) “Hey, can’t we do something really non-traditional? Just run all the numbers together! Open with something other than a chorus! Just experiment!” and got set-piece text back. But he wanted to work with Cammarano and admired his skill in creating musical text, so moderated his objections (he overrode Cammarano’s idea for Azucena going mad in the last scene.)

    1. Ha. I know he had the same issue with the Aida librettist. The pull of the popularity and “importance” of the composer ends up tipping him towards the conservative side I suppose. Though in these stories primarily the librettists come out as conforming careerists…

      Azucena in a mad scene? Now I’m intrigued, against better judgment.

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