“Do you really want to see Trovatore on the stage with that story? Really?!” exclaimed Antonio Pappano to me recently. I can't be sure the Music Director of the Royal Opera specifically had David Bösch's July production in mind, but this swift revival reinforces his notion that the plot is “preposterous”. The Marx Brothers famously sent up Verdi's middle period masterpiece in A Night at the Opera and if Bösch doesn't exactly send up Trovatore's corrosive cocktail of infanticide, jealousy and vengeance, he undermines it with his staging. A giant heart is etched onto the frontcloth, declaring Leonora ♥ Manrico. Animated crows circle above Ferrando. A mother holds her baby aloft, daubed in watery inks. It's Trovatore as teen comic strip.

Najmiddin Mavlyanov (Manrico) and Maria Agresta (Leonora) © ROH | Catherine Ashmore
Najmiddin Mavlyanov (Manrico) and Maria Agresta (Leonora)
© ROH | Catherine Ashmore

The civil war setting (1990s Balkans?) is suitably bleak, in stark greys beneath flurries of paper snow. In Patrick Bannwart's designs, spindly trees sprout impossibly large blossoms, spindly crosses represent the convent, spindly coils of barbed wire mark the battleground. Azucena cradles a doll, haunted by nightmares of throwing her own child into the flames in seeking to avenge her mother's death. But her fellow gypsies are a rag-tag band of circus performers who also turn out to be Manrico's comrades-in-arms, implausibly overpowering di Luna's army to rescue Leonora from the Count's clutches. As she goes to take the veil, Leonora notices – from the other side of the stage – that her confidante, Inès, is weeping, but fails to notice the Count's men and a rather large tank right beside her. At least they've scrapped the butterfly projections. 

This is the third Trovatore cast fielded by the Royal Opera this year. Each has boasted a splendid Azucena, but otherwise it's been a case of swings and roundabouts. Maria Agresta began well as Leonora, satin smooth phrasing gracing “Tacea la notte placida”, but there was a lack of agility in her cabaletta and a tendency to place top notes gingerly in “D'amor sull'ali rosee”, as if terrified they wouldn't ring out. Najmiddin Mavlyanov, a replacement for the scheduled Roberto Alagna, was a disappointing Manrico. His nasal tenor is a size too small for the house and he wisely ducked out of the high note at the end of “Di quella pira”.

Quinn Kelsey (Conte di Luna) © ROH | Catherine Ashmore
Quinn Kelsey (Conte di Luna)
© ROH | Catherine Ashmore

Previously, I've been greatly impressed by Quinn Kelsey's succulent baritone. Here, however, he sounded uncharacteristically reedy in places in the Count's aria “Il balen del suo sorriso”, as if suffering an indisposition, but he still made for a strong stage presence. The saturnine bass of Gábor Bretz made for an excellent Ferrando, di Luna's (not so) old retainer, with good variation in dynamics and vocal colouring making for a vivid opening narration.

Anita Rachvelishvili gave the standout performance as an incendiary Azucena – remarkably given it was her role debut. The Georgian mezzo has all the full throttle decibels required, yet her softer singing also impressed, bringing burnt caramel darkness to her "Ai nostri monti", fleshing out the confused gypsy beyond crazed caricature. Let's hear her Amneris here, please! 

Anita Rachvelishvili (Azucena) © ROH | Catherine Ashmore
Anita Rachvelishvili (Azucena)
© ROH | Catherine Ashmore

In the pit, introspective moments came off well, none finer than the smouldering clarinet solo as Leonora picks her way through the barbed wire to free her imprisoned lover. Richard Farnes ensured there was plenty of fire and brimstone too, conducting a well-paced performance which blazed and crackled in all the right places. Bösch's production, however, remains a damp squib. 

**111