This DVD issue was drawn from a new production for the Royal Opera by Elijah Moshinsky, in conjunction with the Teatro Real, Madrid. It was recorded live on May 3, 2002 at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and on the whole was a quite successful effort. It was Caruso who said that all Il Trovatore needed to succeed was the four greatest voices in the world. He made a point cleverly, but there's some truth to his claim – the opera does need a better-than-average performance to be effectively brought off owing to at least two major flaws: its libretto is ridiculous and its length is not justified. But you can't fault the music and Verdi's ability to convey drama.
This effort features the brilliant Dmitri Hvorostovsky in the role of Count di Luna and as usual he is dazzling for both his singing and dramatic abilities. I'm not sure anyone else could sing this role today with quite his intensity and imaginatively sinister manner. To judge from the applause at the performance's end, however, the audience's favorite performer that night was Yvonne Naef, whose Azucena was thoroughly convincing.
The two principals, José Cura and the very attractive Verónica Villarroel are also excellent here. This cast may not quite meet Caruso's ideal (what cast could?), but they surely come close. The chorus and orchestra turn in splendid work, too, as does conductor Carlo Rizzi and the other singers in the cast, Tomas Tomasson as Ferrando and Gweneth-Ann Jeffers as Ines. But, of course, in DVD recordings another factor must be considered: set designs. Here they are the work of Dante Ferretti and must be assessed as quite atmospheric and imaginative. But the darkish lighting, appropriate in many places throughout the opera, is a constant presence which some will regard as a drab feature. To me, the sets and lighting, in the end, fit the drama well, highlighting the grimmer aspects of this sordid story. Other viewers, I'll concede, will disagree.
Opera initiates, or those unfamiliar with this Verdi opera, will find the story hard to follow – but then that is a flaw of any production of this Verdi work, again, owing to the complex and at times silly libretto. The sound is vivid and the production lavish overall. This is an excellent Il Trovatore, with a stellar cast, and is well worth the attention of opera mavens.
Copyright © 2003, Robert Cummings