Tuesday, November 9, 2010

REVIEW: Il Trovatore of the 24th Macao International Music Festival

I have to say that the featured opera of the 24th Macao International Music Festival (MIMF) has to be the worst of all the MIMF operas that I have seen since 1997 or 1998. Mind you, I have always enjoyed the MIMF operas, thus I was very disappointed to see this… funny enough, the first MIMF opera that I saw was also Verdi’s Il Trovatore featuring the famous Russian mezzo/contralto Elena Obraztsova.

This year’s production of Il Trovatore by Elke Neidhardt was imported from Australia. I have seen this production before in Melbourne (with the famous Welsh tenor Dennis O’Neill) back in 2007. My impression of this production didn’t change after seeing it on November 6 at the Macao Cultural Centre Grand Auditorium. It was good but at the same time not good enough to be memorable.

I actually do like how the production was moved from the 15th century to 20th century. There were some visually interesting moments, e.g. how the two walls when placed side by side and lit up from the back actually formed a cross; or the religious icons opening up to nuns singing behind it… though whether the use of icons for the Spanish Civil War period is appropriate or not is another issue. At the same time, there were some visually questionable moments, e.g. having the prison scene set high up and way back the stage and ALL the singers singing behind bars… it has actually dampened the drama when it needed to be highlighted.

When I saw this production in Melbourne, I also saw Rossini’s Barber of Seville and Dvorak’s Rusalka; and for some reason, it is these two other productions that I have a clear picture of in my mind. Scene after scene in Il Trovatore, I was thinking, “Oh yeah, now I remember that now!” As for the prison scene, THAT I remember thinking what a terrible design it was!

What really made this Il Trovatore the worst MIMF opera I experienced was the singers. While some were not too bad, most were vocally undesirable. As for their acting skills, either they were very uncommitted or totally over-acted. The difficulty in producing a good Il Trovatore is that a company needs to have four equally good leads with each showcasing a different voice range.

In the leading cast, Mina Tasca Yamazaki’s Leonora was wobbly and shrill, while her acting belonged to 1920’s movies. Francesco Anile, playing Manrico, was either having a bad night or was just lazy. Every now and then, he would produce some beautiful ringing tenor lines, while most of the time, I felt like he was reciting the music. His acting didn’t help either. Sebastian Catana’s Count di Luna was the best in the cast with his robust baritone voice and assertive stage presence. Fedrica Proietti’s Azucena was one-dimensional but provided glimpses of a voice that is tonally ample and has a warm texture.

Supporting the leads, Dmitry Belosselsky was a commanding Ferrando and appeared natural and instinctive. The Slovak National Theatre Chorus contributed solid vocalism and was consistently involved in what’s happening on stage.

The Macao Orchestra, led by Lu Jia, didn’t do any better either. It suffered imbalance a lot of times, had difficulty staying together and communicating any genuine emotions.

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At November 10, 2010 at 6:11 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Satoshi,

It is a pity that you did not see the first cast performance [which I saw) and which I understand was totally "different" - and which I presume would have elicited an entirely different view and perspective of what the Macau Opera presented.

At November 10, 2010 at 8:59 AM , Blogger SATOSHI said...

HI Anonymous!

Really appreciate the comment. Did you see both casts? Was the second cast significantly inferior than the first? I have been looking for somebody who have seen both as I am really wondering whether the first cast would have been better.

I didn't really mind the whole opera when I saw it in Melbourne. It was just not as interesting as the other two operas I saw during the same week. At the end of the day, the singers do make a huge difference :-)

At November 11, 2010 at 9:09 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Satoshi and anonymous!
I have seen both of the casts perform and have to say that indeed the second cast that performed on the 6th of November could not come even close to the level of the singers of the first cast on many levels. You name it: voices, technique,drama and overall energy of the whole performance, there's no comparrison.

At November 11, 2010 at 10:49 AM , Blogger SATOSHI said...

Thank you very much for your comment. It definitely brought back some of my confidences on the Festival. I suppose the lesson for next year is to go on Friday or Sunday night... However, that will be really tough for somebody like me coming from HK :-( I tried going on a Friday night before but it was quite tough to enjoy an opera when one is tired... Hmmmmmm....


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