Review: Verdi’s Il trovatore / Bayerische Staatsoper

Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich, 29 June 2024

Giuseppe Verdi: Il trovatore

In addition to Shakespeare and Schiller, Verdi also had a penchant for Spanish drama, where he found literary models for Il trovatore – after Antonio Garciá Gutiérrez’ drama El trovador – and two other masterpieces: Simon Boccanegra (also after Gutiérrez) and La forza del destino (after Ángel de Saavedra), as well as the early Ernani, based on Victor Hugo’s Spanish drama Hernani.

One wonders why such an experienced theatre man as Verdi would be interested in such a strange and almost contradictory plot as that of Gutiérrez’ play, although in the character of Azucena he saw a pioneering female figure that puzzled him. In fact, she is the only maternal role in Verdi’s entire oeuvre, and in the same year that he began work on Il trovatore (1851), Verdi’s own mother died. Tackling the plot of Il trovatore is undoubtedly a tough challenge for directors, especially those who want to be modern and innovative. Should you solve the mystery of Azucena, go for the traditional love triangle, or do something completely different to simplify or complicate the plot? Either way, staging this bizarre story is a rather thankless task, and Oliver Py’s production at the Bavarian State Opera, which premiered in the 200th anniversary year of Verdi’s birth in 2013, shows exactly why.

Py shows all kinds of visions, starting with a morality tale and theatre on stage. Muscular, half-naked, faceless dancers in black animal masks fight barefoot in slow motion, supporting or leading the singers. But Py also finds a great image for the mad scene of the men hammering on anvils and raving about the gypsy woman who embellishes their work, a furious fusion of desire and male violence: a single man beats the head of the locomotive with huge hammers, while a girl dances wildly above, is finally stripped naked and the locomotive slides down. Leonora’s blindness is initially startling, but it makes sense that she cannot tell the difference between the Count and Manrico in the first act. Similarly, Manrico’s strangely childlike behaviour and his complicated relationship with Azucena probably reflect her own mixed feelings about him, being both her foster child and the son of her mother’s murderer.

There is no doubt that Il trovatore requires singers of the highest calibre – Enrico Caruso himself is reported to have said: “Il trovatore is easy to perform; all you need are the four best singers in the world”. The best of the cast is Latvian soprano Marina Rebeka in the role of Leonora. She gives a gripping performance, mixing sensual lines with furious outbursts, all coloured by her personal timbre. Romanian baritone George Petean is one of the most sought-after singers of Verdi’s baritone roles today, and he makes a convincing Conte di Luna, although without the dark power required for the role. Vocally, there is little to criticise in Yulia Matochkina’s Azucena; she has a solid mezzo with both a steady upper and a heavy lower register, but still lacks the intensity and versatility of Azucena’s sharp turns between motherly love and vengeance. Manrico has been used as a showcase role by many tenors over the years – not least for the famous third act stretta ‘Di quella pira’ – and Vittorio Grigolo certainly seems to enjoy the role, but this results in an immensely exaggerated acting which, given his lack of a spinto tenor voice with natural power, comes across as rather parodic. From the pit, Italian conductor Francesco Ivan Ciampa brings out the best in both chorus and orchestra, and his interpretation is full of fervour, drama and passion.

Photo: Wilfried Hösl


Do you love opera and classical music, have a great ear for detail and want to express your thoughts through writing?
Please contact us!


Read our privacy policy for more info.