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Friday, September 24, 2021

F3Stage Review: The fiery passions & voices of LA Opera's Il Trovatore triumph over a muted design

Film Flam Flummox

Il Trovatore

Giuseppe Verdi's Il Trovatore is a tale of fiery, often conflicting, passions--that of an intense romance; that of an unrequited love; that for revenge--so it makes sense that actual flames notably figure in the physical design of LA Opera's big return to the live stage of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. But what really ignites the production is the figurative fireworks set off by voices and performances by the leads, who ultimately shine far brighter than the imposing physical production.

Louis Désiré's design for director Francisco Negín's production is hard to ignore from the initial curtain raise, but not for the extravagant opulence one typically associates with opera; rather, quite the opposite. Ironically, such a tale of emotions run amok--the love and devotion between the troubadour of the title, Manrico (Limmie Pulliam in performances through October 3; Gregory Kunde from October 6 through 10) and Leonora (Guanqun Yu); the Count DiLuna's (Vladimir Stoyanov)'s pathological pining for Leonora; Manrico's mother Azucena's (Raehann Bryce-Davis) quest to avenge her mother's death--plays out in a stark, stone cold grey box with a heavily raked floor. Perhaps reflecting the heavy burdens all the principals carry, there's even a vertical pillar upstage that's occasionally pushed by the leads across the stage length while in song. Undoubtedly, the stark set makes for some occasionally striking stage pictures when working in tandem with other elements (case in point, pictured below, the cross that forms during a scene taking place in a convent) and Bruno Poet's lighting design, and the overall dearth of color makes the pyrotechnic elements all the more punctuating, especially the memorable finale. But with Désiré's costumes similarly muted for the leads and the chorus members, the latter not only additionally done up in anonymous white face makeup, but also literally hiding in the walls much of the time, visually the show becomes a bit monotonous.

Thankfully, though, Verdi's music--and, thus, the emotion of the piece--under the ever-reliable baton of James Conlon is thrilling. Most of the lead quartet is nothing short of exquisite. Yu's Leonora has a luminous soprano to match her graceful stage presence, and her chemistry with the commanding and charismatic Pulliam makes the central romance consistently resonate. Perhaps the real star here is Bryce-Davis, who is simultaneously, appropriately menacing and heartbreaking as Azucena; her ever-simming anger, and the sadness behind it, is mesmerizing as it ultimately consumes all in her path. Stoyanov does not make quite the lasting impression in the less showy role of Count DiLuna, but he is a more than adequate foil to his co-stars. And despites its everlasting ubiquity across all media, the most famous passage of the opera, the "Anvil Chorus," retains its melodic, infectious punch in a live music hall.

And that, right there, underscores how valuable it is to have LA Opera back in season, and even with this Il Trovatore making some unconventional, maybe even questionable, choices, what does work exemplifies how nothing quite matches the creativity and excitement of the live performing arts.

Limmie Pulliam as Manrico, Guanqun Yu as Leonora,
Vladimir Stoyanov as Count di Luna, Morris Robinson as Ferrando
(photo by Cory Weaver)

LA Opera's production of Il Trovatore will have four more performances, on Saturday, September 25; Sunday, October 3; Wednesday, October 6; and Sunday, October 10, at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in The Music Center in Downtown Los Angeles. The October 3 and 6 performances will also be available for livestream at the LA Opera On Now digital platform.

(Special thanks to LA Opera)

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