• Il Trovatore at North Carolina Opera - Leah Crocetto shines


    Il Trovatore
    (1853), opera in four acts, music by Giuseppe Verdi, libretto by Salvatore Cammarano, based on the play El Trovador by Antonio Garcia Gutierrez

    Semi-staged, sung in Italian, with English supertitles
    NC Opera Orchestra and Chorus, conducted by Timothy Myers; chorus master Nathan Leaf
    Director, David Paul
    Lighting Designer, Ross Kolman
    Costume Coordinator, Denise Schumaker


    Leonora, Leah Crocetto
    Azucena, Robynne Redmon
    Manrico, Noah Stewart
    Count di Luna, Liam Bonner
    Ferrando, Richard Ollarsaba
    Ines, Stephane Foley Davis
    Ruiz, John Cashewell
    An Old Gypsy, Robert Chapman
    A Messenger, Brian Oliver Smith

    This review is for the opening night in Raleigh, NC - April 27, 2012 - Meymandi Concert Hall.
    Tickets still available for the Chapel Hill performance at UNC Memorial Hall, on Sunday April 29, 3 PM - for tickets, click [here]


    The beautiful Meymandi Hall was almost full to capacity, with a few seats left in the back where patrons couldn't see the supertitles screen (NC Opera kindly re-seated the people who were there). We were pleased to notice a large number of young operagoers - teenagers and young adults were everywhere.

    The semi-staged concept worked well - like Ms. Leah Crocetto said in her interview with us, this opera that is so expensive to stage with several different scenes and locations, five featured singers and a huge chorus, can be enjoyed by the Raleigh audience in this fiscally responsible way that just requires a bit of imagination. Missing were the sets, but lighting and projections (fire, church imagery, shadows of tree branches, silhouettes) helped with the definition of the scenes. There were props, furniture, and full costumes (the latter were adequate, including Leonora's beautiful blue gown in the last act).

    It is true however that semi-staging this opera was not entirely without problems - manifested for instance in two moments when orchestra and singers lost synchrony - harder to achieve with the conductor being behind the singers - during "Per me ora fatale," and even more pronounced during the difficult ensemble that ends Act II - "E deggio e posso crederlo?" - where there was a moment of general hesitancy, especially in the string section. Well, it's live theater, these things happen. During the first strikes on the anvils for the off-beat hammering in "Vedi! Le fosche notturne spoglie" (the Anvil Chorus) there was also a moment of lost rhythm - how should we put it? It was off-off-beat - but they recovered rapidly and placed the hammer strikes where they should fall for the rest of the chorus and its repetition (maybe an issue related to short rehearsal time - or it could also have been because the anvil hammers were also not facing the conductor).

    Another interesting point about the semi-staged concept is that the orchestra was less muted by the pit and did seem to overwhelm the singers at certain points, in spite of Maestro Myers attempts - mostly successful - to rein in his forces and get them to play with delicacy, when warranted.

    Regarding pace and interpretation of vivacious versus quiet moments, Timothy Myers was very good. As a matter of personal preference, we might have liked "Il balen del suo sorriso" to be taken a little faster.

    Acting was generally subdued and focused on facial and vocal expression rather than in dynamic stage movement, which is understandable given that the singers didn't have a huge space left to interact, since the orchestra and the chorus were on stage. Leah Crocetto in particular had fabulous facial expressions. Liam Bonner conveyed well a cold, harsh, contemptuous di Luna with his face (but was less intense during the passionate moments, although he was able to vocally render those emotions). Robynne Redmon's Azucena was very facially convincing. We thought that Noah Stewart was a bit less successful than his colleagues in the matter of acting. Richard Ollarsaba was as usual a talented actor who was able to convey the horror of Ferrando's opening account of the disturbing past events. For the rest of the evening, of course, he didn't have a lot of opportunites to display his good acting, given that Ferrando's part becomes very small in subsequent scenes.

    Now, the best part: the singing. North Carolina Opera is making for itself a reputation in terms of great casting. It is still a young company (finishing now its second season) with a category IV budget, but it keeps gathering these extremely talented singers for its productions! Certainly Eric Mitchko and Timothy Myers are putting to good use their connections and travels, unearthing some quite spectacular singers, famours or in earlier stages of their careers.

    The star of the night was without a doubt Leah Crocetto. She was extremely impressive, and it will be hard to describe her singing without falling into awe-struck clichés, because she left us quite speechless with her artistry. Her voice is agile, clear, powerful, and she commands great musicality. She has a beautiful face with large blue eyes and plump lips, and puts them all to efficient use in close-ups (a feature that will serve her well in future DVDs or in live broadcasts to cinemas), being able to convey a wide range of emotions with her gaze and facial expressions. Her "D'amor sull'ali rosee" was the best part of the entire performance, and her literally goose-bumping rendition drew the longest of applauses and shouts of "Brava!" to the point that I thought she would encore it. Next, in the "Miserere" she was rather less audacious - probably saving herself for the fiendishly difficult "Tu vedrai che amore in terra" that comes next and is often cut from performances for being too taxing on sopranos.

    It could have been a matter of choice, since in her interview with us she had mentioned that she prefers to sing Leonora with delicacy than with drama. Again, as a matter of personal preference, we might have asked for a bit more drama in the "Miserere" (I was driving to the opera while listening to Leontyne Price who, well, goes for it!) but we respect Ms. Crocetto's choice - especially because her "Tu vedrai" was outstanding, causing "wows" in the audience around me. Notice must be taken of Ms. Crocetto's trills. They are so beautiful that they bring tears to the eyes. They are sublime. Ms. Crocetto is the real deal, a true Verdian soprano who is headed to a bright international career.

    This is another reason to not miss the Sunday performance in Chapel Hill - if you are at driving distance and you miss this show, you'll regret it, once Ms. Crocetto acquires the prominence in the operatic world that she fully deserves and is more than likely to get.

    Liam Bonner was also a pleasure to hear. It is interesting to notice that he hasn't tried his voice at Verdi very often, preferring the French romantic repertoire (he sung Silvano in Ballo when he was with the Houston Grand Opera Studio, and sung il Cavalieri di Belfiore in Un Giorno di Regno - which he defines as a Donizetti-like role, so this is his first substantial role in a more Verdian style). I haven't heard him in the French repertoire, but I certainly liked him in Verdi. First of all, he has incredible projection (he was the best heard singer in the back of the house) and his voice doesn't lose volume in the lower register, so that he can tackle perfectly well the demands of singing Verdi over a loud orchestra. Second, he has beautiful musical phrasing (probably a legacy of his preference for the elegance of the French repertoire).

    Robynne Redmon was an accomplished Azucena, and a great surprise in the fact that this mature singer does not show any signs of vocal wear and tear. She must have administered well her voice, which remains free of any wobble and capable of producing beautiful trills and agile coloratura. In the after-party, she was joking about being "the old woman" among all those youngsters, and I added that "listening to you, one can't tell." Her experience also shows in her good reading of the character's psychology and her nuanced performance in terms of balancing the lyric moments with the forceful ones, without ever falling in the temptation of overdoing Azucena's dramatic side (a sin that Elena Obraztsova didn't seem to avoid in the recording I was listening to, during my drive to Raleigh). Ms. Redmon was one of the highlights in this evening of great singing.

    Mr. Noah Stewart had a less than ideal night. He is certainly gifted with a beautiful timbre, and can shine in the moments when the orchestra is quieter. However he seems to get into some trouble when he needs to push the volume above the orchestra and above the ensembles, when his top can falter. This made for subdued applause after "Di quella pira." The problem does not happen when the volume doesn't need to go up, therefore his off-stage singing was beautiful in the "Miserere" ensemble, and his fourth act was formidable, in the quieter interactions with Azucena and Leonora. One wonders if Manrico is a good fit for his voice - I'd loved to have heard him in his Michigan Opera Theater outing as Nadir in Les Pêcheurs de Perles.

    Richard Ollarsaba was his usual competent self, and quite flawless in his rendition of the opening scene. This young man sings beautifully, and has performed perfectly the three roles I've seen him on stage for, in The Merry Wives of Windsor, The Crucible, and Il Trovatore. I look forward to the concert I'll attend next week when he'll be the principal soloist with the Greensboro Symphony. He's another name to be watched, as his career evolves.

    Support roles were good. Ms. Stephanie Foley Davis is an attractive young lady who did well as Ines, and John Cashwell was surprising as Ruiz, taking good care of his one short aria. The chorus also did well.

    Overall, it was a very pleasant evening of gorgeous Verdi. Leah Crocetto blew the audience away, and by herself would have been enough justification for even extended travel to go and see her live. When you add to her outstanding performance the talents of her peers, you make of this run a hot ticket. These gifted singers have proven that one can act with one's voice, and sets are not essential when the artists are this good.

    Bravo again, NC Opera, for the ability to bring great singers to the Triangle! We look forward to the 2012-2013 season, when Opera Lively will continue to provide in-depth articles about the scheduled operas and interviews with the artists.
    Don't miss Opera Lively's other articles on this Il Trovatore run, featuring interviews with the cast and educational material about the opera; click [here]
    This article was originally published in forum thread: Il Trovatore at North Carolina Opera - Leah Crocetto shines started by Almaviva View original post
    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Schigolch's Avatar
      Schigolch -
      Great to know it was such a good performance!

      With this review and her excerpts in youtube, I think next performances are a great opportunity to listen to Ms. Crocetto's Leonora live.

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