The opening was a wake-up call. Raymond Aceto sang Ferrando’s narration vividly, the men’s chorus was vigorous to a man, and the conductor Nicola Luisotti set off into the opera as though every note was going to matter.
It is a coincidence that the Royal Opera has hired Luisotti for a pair of operas – this second revival of Elijah Moshinky’s production of Il trovatore and a Madam Butterfly – just after he has been appointed music director of the San Francisco Opera. After a decade of Donald Runnicles’s expertise in Wagner, San Francisco has made a 180-degree change of direction. To judge from his urgent conducting of Il trovatore Luisotti is Italian to the core. In an opera full of images of fire everything here flared into life – from the flames that flicker round Azucena’s story-telling to the fireball of energy that sends Manrico racing off to rescue his mother.
It was the sort of performance that can ignite a group of singers, although three of the four principals in this revival hardly needed an open invitation. The dominating presence was Stephanie Blythe’s louring and melodramatic Azucena. Her big, bright, brassy, American mezzo voice – and, boy, does she like to let it rip –has no trouble putting Azucena centre stage and her scenes with Marcelo Alvarez’s constantly fired-up Manrico were the over-the-top high points of the evening. Alvarez sang ardently as always, but it is a shame he feels the need to inject his solos with a hefty dose of all-purpose emoting.
Anthony Michaels-Moore’s Conte di Luna was at his impressive best in the generously lyrical singing of his aria. That left the soprano Catherine Naglestad as the evening’s weakest link. Her singing, although expressive in a subtler way than that of her colleagues, progressed one note on, one note off – mostly off in the Act Four aria, unfortunately, where she did not do herself justice, but maybe she was put off by the distracting noises in the theatre. At one point somebody’s mobile phone loudly played “God save the Queen”. Il trovatore has a punishment for these people. Throw them on the pyre and let them burn.
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