Welcome Back, Dmitri Hvorostovsky!: A Review of the Met’s Il Trovatore

On Friday night, the Met began its run of the second Verdi opera of the season Il Trovatore. The role of Manrico was sung by Yonghoon Lee, Anna Netrebko was Leonora, and Dolora Zajick sang Azucena. The spotlight, however, was on Dmitri Hvorostovsky, who sang Count di Luna and made his first return to the Met after announcing that he is in the midst of a battle with a brain tumor and is currently undergoing treatment. He is scheduled to sing two more performances of Trovatore, after initially canceling many of his performances for the rest of the 2015 year.

Upon Hvorostovky’s first entrance, the Met audience went absolutely nuts. Many were standing and clapping as loud as possible, so much so that Maestro Marco Armiliato had to stop the orchestra and wait for the applause to cease. He and the orchestra gladly joined in the applause despite the halt of the performance. Hvorostovsky put a hand to his heart and bowed his head as thanks for the support. The performance continued after about an entire minute of applause.

Dmitri Hvorostovsky during the finals bows after Il Trovatore on Friday night. Photo credits to Met Oboist Susan Spector

Dmitri Hvorostovsky during the finals bows after Il Trovatore on Friday night. Photo credits to Metropolitan Opera Oboist Susan Spector

That was nothing, however. At the conclusion of the performance during the sequence of final bows, Hvorostovsky was given yet another standing ovation and overwhelming round of applause. This time, however, the orchestra not only applauded, but each member threw a white rose from the pit onto the stage for him to collect. This simple gesture was comforting not only for him, but for everyone in the opera house. It showed that the Met is not just a boasting center of entertainment made up of the essential employees for each department: It’s family. As Canio describes in “Vesti la giubba”, there is more behind an actor than just what is on the surface, the makeup and costume; they can experience pain and suffering just as regular people do. Unfortunately, Hvorostovsky is currently experiencing that very human pain. His illness has hit the Met at a personal level, because every orchestra and chorus member, stagehand, you name it, knows him as a man with and without makeup. On Friday night, Hvorostovsky was as ordinary as any individual in the audience, and more importantly, acknowledged as a beloved member of the Met family.

His performance as Count di Luna might have been a little rocky simply because of his immediate return, however, his vocal power and astounding breath control were still exhibited. Yonghoon Lee used volume as his main tool throughout the evening, enough so that I was concerned he was not going to make it. However, he managed to make it through the evening even while keeping a consistent forte volume. Ms. Zajick was fabulous as always in her honed role as Azucena. Her push for forward resonance makes for a very powerful sound up and down the register. Singing-wise, Anna Netrebko was the star of the evening. Her move towards the Verdi sphere and out of the bel canto belt has benefited her well. Her voice has grown into an authoritative instrument by using the rigid breath support needed to handle Verdi’s difficult ascents and descents on the scale. She also managed to do all this while acting in her adopted “stage-animal” method, as she climbed and hung from the metal grating of the prison during her Act IV aria “D’amor sull’ali rosée”. It was an unbelievable stunt, similar to the ones she pulled as Lady Macbeth last season.

On any opening night, there are always a few disconnections between pit and stage. Maestro Armiliato led the orchestra and chorus with his Italianate cantabile line, allowing them to play and sing freely and beautifully. At some points soloists made wrong entrances, some early some late, but none were trainwreck-worthy.

Performances this fall of Il Trovatore run through October 17 before its return in early February with a different cast. Buy tickets to see it today, and to welcome back Dmitri Hvorostovsky for the next two performances!

A Review of Opening Night at the Met: Otello Obscured

The Met opened its 2015-16 season on Monday night with Verdi’s masterpiece Otello. In a new production designed by Bartlett Sher, Aleksandrs Antonenko sang the title role, Bulgarian soprano Sonya Yoncheva was Desdemona, and Želijko Lučić played the villainous Iago. Maestro Yannick Nézet-Séguin led the Met Orchestra and Chorus.

Sonya Yoncheva and Aleksandrs Antonenko in Act III of Verdi's

Sonya Yoncheva and Aleksandrs Antonenko in Act III of Verdi’s “Otello” © Ken Howard/ Metropolitan Opera 2015

The production left me craving drama and intimacy. As these two elements are so crucial to Shakespeare’s original play, I felt that they were lost in the shuffle as Sher’s stage simply felt “too big”. The initial storm from Act I plays a role throughout the opera, acting as the backdrop within acts and as a moving projection with churning waves beginning each act. This represented some drama, at least, in that the storm symbolized Otello’s increasing suspicion and unsteady mind, just as his ship had almost capsized. The only solid components of the set were opaque walls that could be rearranged to create his realm, gardens, etc. As the walls were opaque, not transparent, one could say that the lack of transparency and pellucidity represented Otello’s obscured vision at the hands of Iago. Otello is only able to see what Iago has envisioned for him, not reality. Therefore, the frosty walls of his palace represented his inability to see what is truly occurring live. Even with this potential subtext, I missed the intense intimacy between Otello and Iago, as the foggy walls and a plethora of empty stage did not allow for it. Overall, the production was dull and, to a point, tedious after sitting for 150 minutes of music.

Antonenko was a solid Otello. At times, his voice sounded tight, especially near the top, making it difficult to hear him over the orchestra. However, his intensity in both Acts III and IV was frightening, and his voice also seemed to ease up after the first two acts allowing him to sing more strongly. Sonya Yoncheva was an astounding Desdemona. She had the entire audience in the palm of her hand as she sang her Willow Song. She sang it so simply, as the true “old tale” that it is. Her bloom at the top of her register is very attractive and easy-sounding. Lučić was a creepy Iago. I had difficulty hearing the resonance in his sound in order to push past the orchestra, but his acting put his point across. His duets with Otello were thrilling and balanced.

The conducting by Maestro Nézet-Séguin made the performance come alive. His stress for sforzandi and dramatic dynamic changes brought out vigor and agility in the orchestra and chorus. Chills went up my spine at the moment he brought in the double basses on the low E right as Otello enters to kill Desdemona in Act IV. The shifts in mood of the music were so clearly defined. The orchestra followed suit under his baton. The strings particularly sounded like “one voice”, reveling in Verdi’s gorgeous parts. It was also indicated that the brass had the green light to play out, which made the performance all the more riveting. The chorus sounded full and powerful, especially in their two bigs scenes: The drinking scene in Act I and with Lodovico in Act III.

The current run of Otello will be on the Met stage until October 17, until it returns in April with a different cast. Buy tickets today to see one of four Verdi operas this season!