A Trovatore production that is staged as – wait for it – the performers attending a Trovatore production. A questionable enough concept, Judit Galgóczy's new staging at the Erkel Theatre proved to be a complete failure, resulting in the audience viciously booing the creative team at their curtain call. 

Fit for a Gothic novel, the plot of Trovatore is notoriously absurd, and at points almost inevitably giggle-inducing or eyeroll-worthy. It needs strong and clear direction to make it convincing dramatically – something Galgóczy did not manage to achieve. Blurring the line between audience and performers, the production opens with the cast and chorus mingling on the stage, applauding the orchestra and the conductor when they enter the pit, and then leaving to (as the onstage announcer says) watch the performance of Trovatore. Frustratingly, neither the identities of the characters of the frame story and the opera, nor the apparent connection between the two, are ever made clear, further convoluting an already dramatically unsound plot. Clear characterizations are never achieved by the staging, indeed, the investment in acting seemed almost to be left up to the choice of the individual performers. Galgóczy also employs a host of extras, but what they are supposed to symbolize or act out remains a mystery most of the time, particularly in the case of the men dressed in white, wearing black veils and carrying around books who appear during certain key scenes and gradually drop to the ground in the finale.

Scenically, the production stays fairly bare, with three large steel frames dominating the stage which serve as the setting for everything from the foyer of an opera house, the psychiatric ward for Leonora's first appearance through to the convent and the prison at the end. Though the frames being moved around by the chorus or the extras feel somewhat ridiculous to watch, at least they provide appropriately grim visuals for the opera.

Shining bright in the gloomy staging, the heros (or rather, heroines) of the evening were undoubtedly Ildikó Komlósi and Gabriella Létay Kiss. Komlósi gave a hair-raisingly intense performance as Azucena: the sheer power of her voice is thrilling enough, but with her masterful use of dynamics and attention to the text she commanded the scene. Never resorting to scenery-chewing, her portrayal of the role was highly sympathetic, drawing a real flesh-and-blood character. Leonora was a wonderful fit for Létay-Kiss, who tackled the demands of the role with great aplomb, showing off her rich, gleaming voice that's an absolute pleasure to listen to. Sensitive phrasing, delicate beauty of the voice and great emotional intensity made her “D'amor sull'ali rosee” and Miserere unforgettable – it was a real shame that we did not get to hear the cabaletta “Tu vedrai”. 

The rest of the cast did not fare so well. Mihály Kálmándi's dark timbre and impeccable legato singing made “Il balen del suo sorriso” one of the highlights of the evening, but he constantly struggled with projecting, resulting in him being drowned out in the ensembles. The burnished voice and ringing tone of Kamen Chanev could have made a truly martial Manrico, but his lack of connection to the text and uncomfortably tight sound on the high notes (including an unconvincing high C at the end of a breathless stretta) prevented his singing from being truly noteworthy. Both men resorting to stock gestures and park and bark delivery did not help with their performances either. In the secondary roles of Ferrando and Ines, András Palerdi and Erika Markovics sang adequately. The chorus, though somewhat struggling with the staging, delivered a high-level performance.

A firmer hand than Ádám Medveczky's would have been needed at the helm to hold the performance together. As the evening progressed, coordination between the pit and the stage seemed almost arbitrary at times, with both early and late entrances from the singers, and a chaotic Act II finale where the three principals at one point sang completely disconnected from each other. Though Medveczky did achieve a truly grim atmosphere at times, drawing some devilishly dark sounds from the brass, on the whole his conducting lacked the energy and precision for a truly engaging performance. Combined with such a frustratingly inept staging, this première was hardly one for the books.