(Angela Meade as Leonora in Verdi’s “Il Trovatore.” Photo: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera)
Early this past fall, the cast for the Metropolitan Opera’s Il Trovatore was so stellar that getting tickets was nearly impossible. Anna Netrebko, arguably the world’s foremost soprano, sang the female lead, Leonora, and the great baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky, although battling severe health challenges, took the stage as the evil Count. The February performances of the opera have a mostly new cast, who may not be as famous, but provide plenty of reasons to go to see Il Travatore before it closes later this month.
The plot line of Il Trovatore is a sinister one, with revenge as one of the central themes. But similar to other Verdi operas, the main plot revolves around a young maiden in love with a young man she hardly knows, while being pursued by older man in authority. In this opera, it is Leonora who is in love with a young troubadour named Manrico. Leonora had briefly met Manrico previously, but was separated from him because of a civil war. The older man in authority obsessed with Leonora is Count Di Luna, the commander of the armed forces
The revenge theme in the opera is the result of the killing of a Gypsy, long before the opening of Act One. The Gypsy in question was wrongly accused of bewitching the Count’s infant brother and put to death as a result. It is the Gypsy’s daughter, Azucena, who is a major character in this opera. Azucena tells the audience that she has sworn revenge for her mother’s death, but thus far the revenge has gone array, as when she meant to kill the Count’s infant brother, she mistakenly killed her own son who was also at the site.
Reminiscent of a Greek tragedy, Azucena has raised the Count’s brother as her own son, who, you guessed it, is the same Manrico that is in love with Leonora. The Count is aware of Manrico’s love for Leonora and her love for him, and eventually takes Manrico captive. He is set to be executed by the Count, but Leonora is desperate to save him. She agrees to succumb to the Count’s love to spare Manrico. However, rather than be with the Count, Leonora takes poison and dies in Manrico’s arms. Manrico is then taken off to be executed. The final scene is of the Gypsy’s daughter and the Count, where she tells him that she has finally gotten the revenge for her mother—the Count has killed his own younger brother.
There were several excellent performances among the cast. The most notable was Dolora Zajick, who sang the part of Azucena. The mezzo-soprano is in her 60s and first debuted her role as the Gypsy’s daughter in 1988. Although at this point in her career, Zajick’s range may be a bit weak, she knows (in fact, may have created) the nuances of the character, and perfectly portrayed the essence of Azucena.
The young Juan Jesus Rodriguez, who debuted his Count (as the result of the withdrawal of Hvorostovsky) on Wednesday night, did an excellent job. Less impressive was Antonello Palombi, who was filling in for the ill Marcello Giordani in the role of Manrico.
One of the primary reasons to see Il Travatore before the end of the month, however, is to get a glimpse of the female lead—Angela Meade. Arguably the best young American soprano, Meade made her Met debut in 2008. She has been singing in New York intermittently for the last few years and is maturing into her voice very well. This role provides her with an excellent opportunity to show her abilities–including the wonderful color of her voice and an outstanding high register. Meade’s talent alone should bring you into the opera house to see Il Trovatore.
Three more performances of the opera will be staged this season—February 6th, 9th, and 13th. Tickets start at $25.