Il Trovatore review: Anna Netrebko stars in an irresistibly lavish production

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Rupert Christiansen
·2 min read
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Anna Netrebko - Julian Hargreaves
Anna Netrebko - Julian Hargreaves

Over the last few months, I’ve been lucky enough to visit theatres for a few live performances, delivered in austere fashion to accord with the regulations. Inspiring though it’s been to hear music made in four dimensions, I have desperately missed not only the excitable, convivial atmosphere of a full house but also the sheer spectacle that a lavishly decorated and furnished stage can offer. So I am all too susceptible to the charms of this DVD recording of this jaw-droppingly extravagant version of  Verdi’s Il Trovatore, taken from last year’s summer festival at the Verona Arena.

It is directed and designed by that master of theatrical bling Franco Zeffirelli, who died at the age of 96 shortly before its première. One may speculate how much he actually had to do with it, given his great age and state of health, but it certainly bears all the trademarks of his latter style: lavish "period" costumes, impressively marshalled crowd scenes swelled with supernumeraries and menagerie, a refusal to intellectualise or question the plot’s premises and a readiness to allow the soloists to walk through the action doing whatever they like without any attempt at psychologically sophisticated interpretation. The acting is broad-brush – as it needs to be on a platform as large as Verona’s – and often faintly ludicrous; the singers make frequent recourse to the prompter, and Pier Giorgio Morandi’s conducting of the orchestra is workaday. But for sheer shameless old-school gusto, the whole thing is impossible to resist or despise. 

The selling-point is the participation of Anna Netrebko, making her Verona debut. Her tone somewhat clouded and her phrasing unsubtle, she is a notch below her best as Leonora and one feels she hasn’t thought about the music much. Still, even on an off-night, Netrebko retains her star quality and there are moments in the two final scenes where she strikes top form. Her husband Yusif Eyvazov makes a dashing and vocally forthright Manrico, delivering a cracker of a top C at the end of "Di quella pira". As Manrico’s nemesis di Luna, Luca Salsi is rough and ready, while veteran mezzo Dolora Zajick busts a gut as the baneful gypsy Azucena. One notable feature is the highly unusual inclusion of the ballet sequence, written by Verdi for a production at the Paris Opéra. Don’t expect great art, but it’s wonderful entertainment.

Il Trovatore is out now, released by Major Entertainment