Il Trovatore, dramma lirico in quattro parti, sung in Italian (1853 – premiered at Teatro Apollo in Rome)

Music by Giuseppe Verdi
Libretto by Salvatore Cammarano and Leone Emanuele Bardare, after Antonio Garcia Gutiérrez’ play El Trovador (1853)

A co-production by Staatsoper Unter den Linden (a.k.a. Berlin Staatsoper) and Wiener Festwochen, performed at the company's temporary home at the Schiller Theater while the main theater undergoes renovations, Berlin, Germany, on July 11, 2016

The Staatskapelle Berlin orchestra is conducted by Daniel Barenboim
The Staatsopernchor has for chorus master Martin Wright

Stage director – Philipp Stölzl
Co-director and choreographer – Mara Kurotschka
Set Designers – Conrad Moritz Reinhardt and Philipp Stölzl
Costume Designer – Ursula Kudrna
Lighting Designer – Olaf Freese
Video Director – Tiziano Mancini

Cast
Il Conte di Luna – Simone Piazzola
Leonora – Anna Netrebko (Opera Lively interviewee)
Azucena – Marina Prudenskaya
Manrico – Yusif Eyvasov
Ferrando – Adrian Sâmpetrean
Ines – Anna Lapkovskaja
Ruiz – Florian Hoffmann
Un vechio zingaro – Jens-Eric Schulze
Un messo – Stefan Livland

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This production is a revival of the one given in 2013 (with almost the same cast, except for Plácido Domingo as Il Conte di Luna, Gaston Rivero as Manrico, and Marina Prudenskaya as Azucena) and recorded on a Deutsche Grammophon blu-ray released in September 2014

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Barenboim and his orchestra are crisp, resonant, and vibrant from the beginning. We know that musically we are in for a treat.

The first scene opens with a thorough demonstration of how to stage smartly an ancient opera. Facial expressions, costumes, blocking/choreography, and lighting (with the shadows on the walls) are all top notch and deliver an eerie, scary feeling for the telling of the witch’s story – one of the best Trovatore openings I’ve seen. Contributing to it, exquisite singing and acting from Adrian Sâmpetrean as Ferrando.

Soon we get La Bellissima tackling "Tacea la notte placida," and all concerns about her voice not being suited for this dense Leonora role are shattered the moment she opens her mouth. This woman was born for this. It seems like it’s the role she was waiting for. This aria is very exposed as it is written with incredible dramatic force without giving the singer an opportunity to warm up. Often we get an anemic showing. Not Anna’s case! She masters it with beautiful dynamics and phrasing, piano in some parts, fortissimo in others, with her gorgeous dark voice color, and it is simply goosebumping – I’m telling you all, this woman when people look back to the 21st century from the 22nd century, will be at a stature similar to Callas’. What a spectacular opera singer Anna has turned into!

It is difficult for Anna Lapkovskaja to keep up with her namesake, but since the blu-ray is released she did seem to grow more comfortable in the role, and I found her performance today better than the one three years ago.

Anna continues, being very precise in the agile coloratura passages that follow, showing that the darkening of her voice hasn’t impacted on her new-found ability to trill. This singer’s technique doesn’t stop improving as she ages – one is tempted to use the cliché of comparing her to a great wine. When she finishes, the public goes berserk in applause.

Two of the main changes in the cast in my opinion greatly improved over the ones in the recording. The third one, the absence of Plácido Domingo, is a mixed one: while we all love Plácido Domingo, it's been hard for him to sing at his age with the same freshness, obviously, although he has managed his voice well over the years. Still, he did particularly well in that 2013 production so Simone Piazzola had big shoes to fill, but he delivered a compelling performance tonight that didn't make we miss the veteran singer too much.

Even better was Yusif Eyvazov. He did very well in the trio with Anna and Simone in “Infida! Qual voce.”

The small stage now fills rapidly with the choir in extremely inventive and original costumes, for a very well performed Anvil Chorus. It’s a great visual feast, complete with a man in a bear costume, and also musically satisfactory. Lots of fun!

Another great improvement was the singer who did Azucena, Dolora Zajick, who seemed much more impressive and scary than her younger colleague Marina Prudenskaya on the blu-ray. She delivered a powerful “Stride la vampa.” Dolora is also more physically imposing than the petite Marina. Her Commedia del' Arte-inspired costume is also darker, less colorful than the one in the original production, and this was also a good correction since we don't want Azucena to appear clownish.

The walls open and close, and show both real people in battle scenes, and projections. It is neat.

Simone Piazzola performs “Il balen del suo sorriso” with good pitch control, although his acting seems a bit cold.

Next, we get a very pretty nun – our Anna – singing divinely the “Perché piangete?” We then get some impressive use of the opening walls and good blocking for the Part 2 finale.

Red lights and interesting choreography open well the next part. More shadows, real flames, and a canon add to the good staging. The projections are cute, with two mini-Annas on the wall looking dismayed at a dead Manrico with blood seeping down, while real-life Anna contemplates the projection in horror.

“L’onda de’suoni mistici” is beautifully sung by both performers. Great lighting and blocking once more fire up the stage for the “Di quella pira” scene.

The comprimario role of Ruiz is nicely done by Florian Hoffmann in his few lines. His voice has good timbre and stable pitch.

We get a simply spectacular “D’amor sull’alli rosee” by Anna, followed by a superb "Miserere"! Anna sounds dense, colorful, and resonant, and the public goes wild, with endless shouts of Brava!!!

In this production Anna stabs herself right at the beginning of the Miserere. This does make this iconic stretch of music even more compelling with the formidable singer adding to the scene her acting talent, to give more consequence to her despair and the line "I'm dying." It does create a problem later, in terms of altering the libretto (in which Leonora poisons herself instead of stabbing herself, much later in the opera - Manrico is supposed to doubt her because he does not know that she drank poison (since he ignores this proof of love and this attempt to avoid falling into Luna's trap, he believes Leonora has betrayed him) - but how could he have missed Anna's obvious bloody stain right on top of her heart?

While in her first outing as Leonora Anna had trouble pacing herself and gave too much power to “D’amor sull’alli rosee” having little left for “Tu vedrai che amore in terra,” now that she has a few Leonoras under her belt, she is able to finsih the entire sequence without getting tired. She was also more agile and faster in the coloratura than her first attempt.

Given that the characters' dynamics get louder towards the end, the premature stabbing continues to create problems. Certainly in opera long singing scenes after a character is fatally stabbed are not unheard of, but this production does push it a bit too far. Anna finally dies, and our Azucena is again very, very good at the end.

The public really liked the show tonight. Curtain calls applauses were rather amont the longest I've ever seen in any production. It’s neat that the orchestra came to the stage as well, carrying their instruments.

I'd say this was the very best Trovatore I've ever seen. First, because while I had already very much enjoyed this production when it first came out, the revival seems to have made it even better, correcting the few shortcomings of the past. Second, Anna’s “D’amor sull’alli rosee,” "Miserere," and “Tu vedrai che amore in terra” sequence is one of the best moments of singing among this entire generation of operatic performers. Third, this is a visually intriguing staging that has many strong points, with excellent blocking (such a good use of a small stage), lighting, and overall great costumes, not to forget the very neat projections. Fourth, the orchestra, the conductor, and the chorus are all flawless.

It was profetic that my first review of this production included the following statement: "Anna here proves that she can do it. Hopefully her next Leonora will have a better Manrico, a better Azucena, just as good a Luna, and she’ll pace herself a bit more. Then, it will be A++ perfection."

Well, there we go, it's done. We do have our A++ almost perfect Trovatore. Bravo, Berlin Staatsoper!

Next, production pictures gently authorized by the Press Department, credited to Matthias Baus, followed by some Opera Lively photos showing the theater and the curtain calls.

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Anna Netrebko as Leonora, photo Matthias Baus

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Same, photo Matthias Baus

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The chorus firing a canon ball, photo Matthias Baus

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The Schiller Theater, the temporary home of the Berlin Staatsoper

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A detail, with the Trovatore poster on the right

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Other posters on the walls

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Same, showing Barenboim

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More posters

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Curtain calls, photo credit Opera Lively

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Some interesting costumes, photo credit Opera Lively

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The orchestra and the maestro came upstage for the curtain calls, photo credit Opera Lively

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Standing ovation at the end