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The Piedmont Opera opened its 33rd season Friday evening with Giuseppe Verdi’s thrilling opera Il Trovatore, given in the Joan Hanes Theater of the Stevens Center of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.
Gruesome as the plot is (several duels, a burning at the stake, a beheading, fratricide, suicide, and kidnapping), the music in which Verdi couches this XVth-century drama of Antonio Garcia Guttiérez (1813-84) is stirring and memorable. Il Trovatore (“The Troubadour”) lies at the mid-point of Verdi’s long and productive life (1813-1901) and has been popular ever since its opening in 1853.
The Piedmont Opera’s version of the opera blurs the separation of acts and scenes by the clever use of flying sets (lent by Virginia Opera) allowing there to be only one intermission. While this is very successful in the second half of the drama, it tends to conflate the different scenes of the first and second acts, which take place at quite separate times and places.
Two voices stood out in this production: Jill Gardner was a beautiful and convincing Leonora with a lovely warm voice in all registers. Unfortunately in the opening night performance she was consistently about one comma flat. Her nemesis, the young Count di Luna, was sung and played with malice and cunning by Mark Walters, whose dark and powerful voice fit the role perfectly. Stephen Mark Brown, in the title role, sang admirably, especially the famous “Di quella pira,” but I nonetheless wished for a sweeter warmer voice for Manrico, the troubadour. A young and talented newcomer, Richard Ollarsaba, shone as the captain of the guards, Ferrando. And the pivotal character, Alzucena, was sung with befitting passion by Shannon Magee.* The Piedmont Opera Chorus, which mostly sang as a men’s chorus of soldiers and a capella women’s choir of nuns, was great – power galore from the men and clear sweet tones from the ladies.
The musical as well as dramatic high point comes in Act IV, when Leonora sings her aria “D’amor, sull’ali rosee,” followed by the exuberant duet of heroine Leonora and antagonist Count di Luna, “Vivrá! Contende il giubilo,” in which the heroine believes she has saved her lover by yielding to Luna, who, in turn, believes he will wed Leonora, unaware that she has just poisoned herself. All this psychodrama is preceded by one of the most peaceful and beautiful quartets in opera, featuring two clarinets and two bassoons, admirably played by musicians of the Winston-Salem Symphony, which under the capable leadership of Maestro James Allbritten sounded superb, especially in the many Verdi-esque loud and brass-laden passages.
Repeat performances are scheduled for Sunday afternoon (October 3) at 3:00 p.m. and Tuesday evening (October 5) at 7:30 p.m. For details, see our calendar.