According to the young stage director Oriol Tomas, “We are immersed in an eternal and mythical Spain, as it was perceived in the mid-19th century. It’s got all you could ask for: passion, fire, vengeance, mystery and fratricidal war, along with love, sacrifice, lyricism, and loyalty. A story of impossible love plays out against a backdrop of medieval war.” So the stage was set for this new production of Verdi’s Il Trovatore by Tomas and Opéra de Montréal.

There were some very fine musical moments from the principals, most notably from Laura Brioli (Azucena), Hiromi Omura (Leonora) and Gregory Dahl (Count di Luna). Most impressive was the dramatic expressivity of Omura’s dynamic range, particularly in the high registers. Few sopranos can master this role due to the monumental task of singing so many athletic and high arias. Omura seemed at ease in the role due to her ability to sing piano in her uppermost register, a range in which most sopranos have but one dynamic. Her dying words were tinted with this same expressivity – making that tragic moment one of the more memorable moments in the performance.

Gregory Dahl’s voice was powerful and clear, but his portrayal of Count di Luna’s insipid, murderous jealousy was less convincing. The Count is a character who creates a kind of micro Trojan War in order to capture his love Leonora. He has no qualms about using his military might for his own selfish ventures, finds great pleasure in the prospect of torturing the mother of his rival until death, and even tries to kidnap Leonora from a convent, stating “not even God can keep her from me.” I heard the words that Dahl was singing, and I enjoyed the lovely voice, but his characterization contained no evil, no sadistic joy of vengeance, and certainly no arrogant, lovesick madness.

Dongwon Shin (Manrico) shined most in his enraged aria “Di quella pira.” Although his voice was not entirely comfortable in the low and middle registers, and often lacked the kind of bite necessary to project into Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, his high range was superbly confident and his numerous high Cs were indefatigably solid.

Director Oriol Tomas, in his début with Opéra de Montréal, unfortunately crafted a staging which lacked the kind of energy and excitement needed to spark interest in the plot. The result was a production which would be viscerally engaging only to audience members who know the music and text well. There was little action during arias and choruses, which relied far too frequently on the period-appropriate but slightly dull “park and bark” technique. The acting and character-interaction consistently left more to be desired. Contrastingly, the sets were designed in a grand gothic style, as regal as they were beautiful, and provided constant visual satisfaction.

The final scene of the opera contained further staging oddities – the death of Manrico at the hands of the Count’s executioners was so sudden and understated in the staging, one hardly noticed the death until it was clearly announced. The libretto also provides a rather puzzling dramatic effect. In the final moments of the opera, Azucena admits to Count di Luna that Manrico, whom he had just slain, was in fact his brother. This immense plot-twist – the most powerful in the opera – is given no more than ten seconds to develop before the final curtains fall. The opera ended with Azucena, wreathed in a fire which sprang up spontaneously, shouting confirmations of accomplished vengeance to her mother, while ignoring completely the frivolous murder of her son.

Opéra de Montréal have produced an Il Trovatore which is comfortably conventional and musically solid, but which lacks the exceptionality which comes from a truly creative artistic interpretation.