Željko Lučić in 'Il travatore'. Photo: Clive Barda © Clive Barda

Guess the opera. Snow falls in a barren landscape. Butterflies flit here and there. A tank is menacingly never far away. For light relief a down-at-heel circus troupe turns up in a caravan and battered old car, led by a man in angels’ wings who jousts with another in a bear suit.

The images in David Bösch’s new production of Il trovatore are picturesque, but it is not always easy to see what they have to do with Verdi’s opera. Most directors struggle with Il trovatore, an opera that works through raw emotions rather than dramatic logic. Bösch’s whimsical effort is a feeble answer to the problem.

The mood he sets is very dark, almost everything happening at night, the colour scheme overwhelmingly black and white. We are in some unspecific, present-day war zone, where the ruling power is resorting to indiscriminate violence and the outcasts, in the form of Azucena’s gypsy group, are a rag-bag of travelling players. Projections of graffiti and cartoon faces nudge the ideas along. In terms of present-day productions it is hard to call this controversial, but none of it is followed through. As for the acting — well, what did they did spend the rehearsal time doing?

Fortunately, the main four singers are all experienced in their roles. As Count di Luna, Željko Lučić may not be as stirringly powerful as Cappuccilli was, or as elegant as Bruson, but his sturdy timbre and long-breathed phrasing put him in the front rank of Verdi baritones at the moment. Ekaterina Semenchuk makes a suitably formidable and gritty Azucena. There is not much sense of romance going on between Lianna Haroutounian’s not quite beautiful-sounding Leonora and Francesco Meli’s bright-voiced, intense Manrico. It is good, though, to have Meli’s native Italian accent and style; and another Italian, bass Maurizio Muraro, relates Ferrando’s narrative clearly.

In the same vein Gianandrea Noseda conducts a trim, clear-cut, Italianate performance, which from time to time goes one step further and releases the all-consuming fire that burns in Verdi’s score. For the rest this was a lukewarm evening. A second cast alternates the run of performances.

To July 17, roh.org.uk

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