Il Trovatore is an opera rich in melody, but it is with appropriately foreboding drumrolls that the music, and the drama, begin: a colourful tale underpinned by a dark reality. This stark, grim inevitability is well expressed, too, in David McVicar’s production of the opera, its bare sets uncompromising in their imposing, unforgiving nature. All the opera’s fantastic vibrancy is here provided by the quartet of principal singers – Sondra Radvanovsky, Marcelo Álvarez, Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Dolora Zajick – whose representations fill the color spectrum from full-bodied, bloody red to deepest, darkest green; and Marco Armiliato and the MET Orchestra provide the musical easel and canvas for the vocal virtuosos to paint their melodic masterworks.

The prologue provides the audience a glimpse into the complex back-story of Il Trovatore from the perspective of Ferrando, the Count di Luca’s faithful captain of the guards. Stefan Kocán’s incredibly rich bass recounts the gruesome tale to his band of inquisitive soldiers before a barren castle wall. Charles Edwards’ sets are large-scale installations, designed – obviously – to be viewed by the Met audience rather than close cameras. In this On Demand version there is minimal panning out to view the entire stage and thus the effect of the overall spectacle – throughout the opera, a preference for close-ups does little justice to the many large-scale scenes. In the intimate opening of Act I, with its exchange between Leonora (Ms Radvanovsky) and her maid (Maria Zifchak), this is less of a problem, especially because the bare grey wall is hardly evocative of the palace gardens in which Leonora awaits the voice of her beloved troubadour, Manrico (Mr Álvarez).

From the very first notes, Ms Radvanovsky’s voice is arrestingly beautiful; its intense quality and remarkable control are features of the opera throughout. The first of her solo arias, “Tacea la notte”, is an impassioned recalling of the story of the lovers’ first romantic meeting; the ensuing “Di tale amor che dirsi” seems rather frivolous in contrast, but it serves as a ravishing exhibition ground for Ms Radvanovsky’s extraordinary talent.

It is not Manrico who arrives first, though, but his nemesis, the Count di Luca, (Mr Hvorostovsky), looking very dashing indeed with his flowing silver hair and magnificent full-length black coat. Upon Manrico’s arrival the showdown ensuing is all vocal power, cloak swishing and wavy-hair flicking – Álvarez sporting a particularly spectacular blow-dried buffon. The contrasting characters of these strict rivals are perfectly portrayed in their principal love arias in Act III: Mr Hvorostovsky’s stifled, stiff movements in the Count’s “Il balen del suo sorriso” attest to the clash of character and content this aria encapsulates; and Mr Álvarez is entirely impassioned and outpouring in “Ah si, ben mio”, before the sensational and enraged call to arms he gives his comrades in “Di quella pira”.

Completing the quartet of protagonists is Azucena (Ms Zajick), the gypsy mother of Manrico, obsessed by revenge against the di Luca family for their burning of her mother at the stake. Her ‘Stride la vampa’ is a grim retelling of this death, and, appearing just after the jolly old Anvil Chorus which begins Act II, is a powerful expression of Azucena’s tragic and hate-filled existence. Azucena is not all depravity and rage, though; some tender scenes between Ms Zajick and Mr Álvarez uncover a kind and loving side to the ostracised and despised gypsy, whose quest for vengeance is ultimately fulfilled in the opera’s tragic denouement.

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