Routinely mentioned in the same breath as Rigoletto and La Traviata, Verdi’s two other seminal operas from the early 1850s, this grisly tale of long-harboured revenge in 16th-century Spain was a colossal success in its time.
Thanks to such hits as the rumbustious Anvil Chorus, Il Trovatore’s music is as well-known today as that of the other two – yet, while they remain the keystones of opera house repertory, the work is now rarely staged in its entirety. The main reason for this is surely its lack of emotional depth: it’s hard to sympathise with such two-dimensional characters, a problem that is not solved by David Bosch’s production, returning to the Royal Opera House for the first time since its July premiere. Nonetheless, the chance to experience the work on stage is welcome, and this atmospheric modern-day take offers much to enjoy, including an imposing on-stage tank and lively gypsy camp scene.
Although not a stellar cast, all the principals hold their own. Most impressive is Georgian mezzo Anita Rachvelishvili, terrifying as gypsy woman Azucena with blood-curdling low notes and a searing upper range. Uzbek tenor Najmiddin Mavlyanov has power and fluidity as titular troubadour Manrico, while his lover, Italian soprano Maria Agresta, has tonal beauty but insufficient strength; neither exudes much dramatic flair.
As military leader Count di Luna, Hawaiian baritone Quinn Kelsey is admirably cavernous, albeit with occasional cracks, but surely star Dmitri Hvorostovsky will make more of the role when he joins the cast for the show’s second return in February. Richard Farnes, fresh from stepping down as music director of Opera North, conducts with energy but doesn’t bring a distinctively Italianate quality to the music.