Saturday, October 25, 2008

Review: 'Il Trovatore'

Virginia Opera, Peter Mark conducting
Oct. 24, Landmark Theater, Richmond

The Virginia Opera’s season-opening production of "Il Trovatore" is a consistently gripping piece of Italianate musical melodrama – strikingly staged, boasting a stellar tenor in Gustavo López Manzitti and a super-stellar mezzo-soprano in Jeniece Golbourne, and conducted with gratifying turbulence and pathos by Peter Mark (marking his 100th production and 699th and 700th performances with the Virginia Opera this weekend).

Golbourne, as the tormented gypsy Azucena, is one of the most remarkable singing actresses ever to perform with this company. Her tone is both rich and biting, and bottoms out below conventional contralto range in a true female baritone. She projects her voice powerfully, and is an intensely dramatic presence, commanding any scene in which she appears. This is the second production in which she has sung Azucena; it won’t be long, I’ll bet, before she's singing the role in the leading opera houses.

Manzitti, as the troubadour (Trovator) Manrico, is a robust, animated and satisfyingly emotive leading man, in consistently good voice and quite capable of pitching the high notes to the rafters. He holds his own in his scenes with Golbourne – no small feat – and reins in his voice to complement others in this opera’s many ensemble numbers.

Baritone Nmon Ford, a regular in Virginia Opera casts in recent years, is a convincing and nicely nuanced heavy as DiLuna, Manrico’s rival (and, he learns too late, sibling). Soprano Eilana Lappalainen, who last appeared with this company as Violetta in a 1994 "Traviata," plunges gamely into the melodramatics of Leonora, object of the affections of Manrico and DiLuna, but struggles with the bel canto demands of the role. Bass-baritone Ashraf Sewailam is similarly taxed vocally as Di Luna’s lieutenant Ferrando.

Stage director Lillian Groag keeps a large cast moving and nicely frames leads in scenes with choristers and supernumeraries. Michael Ganio’s darkly minimalist sets and Richard Winkler’s moody lighting underscore the darkness of this music drama. The orchestra, drawn from Norfolk’s Virginia Symphony, sounds unusually full-bodied and punchy, and its winds and brass add nicely atmospheric sonority.

The final performance of this Virginia Opera production of "Il Trovatore" begins at 2:30 p.m. Oct. 26 at the Landmark Theater, Main and Laurel streets in Richmond. Tickets: $22.50-$87.50. Details: (804) 262-8003 (Ticketmaster),