Verdi considered naming his opera Il trovatore after Azucena, the character whose actions set the story in motion and, in many ways, drive the plot. He bestowed the moniker instead upon the troubadour Manrico, her supposed son, but the Glimmerglass Festival’s streamlined adaptation puts the gypsy front and center. And when you have an Azucena as powerful and persuasive as Raehann Bryce-Davis on hand, it’s easy to understand why.

Raehann Bryce-Davis (Azucena) and Gregory Kunde (Manrico)
© Karli Cadel | The Glimmerglass Festival

The first image we glimpse is of Bryce-Davis, almost in a state of possession, spiriting a kidnapped infant from his cradle, his blanket unwrapped to reveal nothing but air. Rather than beginning with Ferrando’s narrative, the action segues directly into the Anvil Chorus, followed by “Stride la vampa”. This dramaturgical decision reinforces Azucena’s contribution to the opera’s arc – she is a storyteller as much as she is a character, her thrilling arias filling in the gaps and laying the prime movement that brings the central love triangle to its tragic end. 

In this respect, Bryce-Davis offers everything an audience member could want, vocally and dramatically. She possesses impeccable technique, which can be taught, and a star sound, which cannot. She can move from her luscious lower register seamlessly to a gossamer trill, reminding the listener how much of a debt this work owes to bel canto. Where some singers sacrifice accuracy and a seamless legato line for greater theatrical effect, she never has to sacrifice one for the other – the role is sung with as much musical integrity here as I’ve ever heard it and with plenty of pathos. In her hands, “Condotta ell’era in ceppi” is a lesson in distinctive phrasing and building a narrative, as she gradually reveals how Azucena's unquenchable quest for revenge pulls the strings that influence Manrico's perilous actions.

Stephanie Sanchez (Ines) and Latonia Moore (Leonora)
© Karli Cadel | The Glimmerglass Festival

The other principals, though admirable, did not rise to Bryce-Davis’ level. Gregory Kunde knows his way around Manrico, but the astonishing youthfulness his tenor voice has sustained for decades is no longer consistently evident. Although he sang stylishly and with exemplary messa di voce, high notes were often hard won, including the C that Verdi didn’t write in “Di quella pira”. Latonia Moore, like many fine Verdians before her, was an inconsistent Leonora. Blame the role partially – its swings between detailed ornamentation and gutsy lower passages suggest that Verdi might have had two different sopranos in mind – but the core of Moore’s voice at the performance I attended possessed a hollowness I hadn’t heard previously from her. She managed well the soaring lyricism of the Act 2 finale but seemed uncomfortable in “Tacea la notte placida”; coloratura passages were accurate but tentative. Michael Mayes brought a woolly baritone to the Conte di Luna, although he acted the role, costumed here like a sleek business executive, with an appropriately threatening air.

Michael Mayes (Conte di Luna) and Peter Morgan (Ferrando)
© Karli Cadel | The Glimmerglass Festival

Joseph Colaneri and Kelley Rourke’s adaptation, trimmed to 90 minutes, admirably conveys the opera’s diverging plotlines while preserving all the hits. Colaneri is also the festival’s music director, and he conducted a propulsive reading of the score, although there were occasional coordination issues between the orchestra, housed inside the Alice Busch Opera Theater, and the singers on the outdoor stage. The production, co-directed by Francesca Zambello and Eric Sean Fogel, makes strong use of the wood-panelled unit set that is the baseline for every opera this season, with a few spare props to get the story across. Christelle Matou’s costumes are especially effective in delineating the class distinctions between the forest-dwellers and the nobility. And she smartly outfits Moore in a white empire-waist dress that not only makes her look like a Neo-Realist film star but communicates Leonora’s purity.