‘Il Trovatore’: Russian Star Anna Netrebko Gives Unforgettable Performance at Salzburg Festival

‘Il Trovatore’ is back at the Salzburg festival and again commands sold out performances. One of the main points of attraction is the Russian star Anna Netrebko in the role of Leonora.

But she is not the only lead singer from St Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theater in the show. The main role of the gypsy Azucena is performed by Russian mezzo Yekaterina Semenchuk, who is no novice in Salzburg and also one of their favorites.

Moreover, the conductor and music director of the performance, Italian maestro Gianandrea Noseda, previously spent ten years in the Mariinsky as main guest conductor under Valery Gergiev. The show’s light designer, Gleb Filshtinsky, is still another Mariinsky hand. All in all, the list of key participants in the production confirms the major role the Mariinsky theater plays on the world opera scene.

The production was captivating. The story line as told by Latvian stage director Alvis Hermanis came across as clear and logical, which is no mean feat. The plot of ‘Il Trovatore’ puts off many opera lovers. Certainly, the subject cannot be gloomier and darker, but it is also confusing. Hermanis found psychological truth in it which is persuasive.

He is also the scenographer and designed the stage in a rather unusual way. The opera is set in the galleries of an art museum. The spaces are luxurious, with high ceilings, something like Madrid’s Prado, and decorated with paintings that take into the account the opera’s plot. Here we see big canvases depicting mythological and religious scenes. The protagonists of the opera are employed by the museum as attendants. During the day, they silently stare at the portraits, but at night everything changes.

Using this inventive device, the stage director combines two epochs, Spain of the 16th century and our modern era. The audience sees two different groups of protagonists living in two different ages, but strangely, their psychology and passions are identical.

As soon as night falls, the attendants change their uniforms into splendid Renaissance red velvet costumes and assume the life and fate of the sitters. Two brothers get involved in a mortal combat over a lady. The male attendant becomes Ferrando, the servant of the count Di Luna. The energetic female guide is transformed into Azucena, the gypsy burning with desire to wreak her revenge on the hated Di Luna family. Beloved Leonora, the court lady sung by Anna Netrebko, wishes to stay faithful to her fiancée against insuperable odds and takes poison. Better dead than unfaithful- such is the credo of Spanish caballeros. Count Di Luna is outraged that the woman he loved sacrificed her life for his rival and kills him in a fury, not knowing that his victim was his long lost brother.

The plot becomes darker and darker and one wishes for the daybreak to come, thus letting the figures return to their places in the frames on the walls and abandon their jealousy and hatred. But this does not happen. Fate has not left even a glimmer of hope for the protagonists.

In the final scene, the museum walls are bare, stripped of the paintings which are piled against the wall. Nevertheless, the protagonists continue their heated debate, the chorus turns into shadows departing to the nether world, and just before they disappear they pose against the wall, hesitating which fate to choose: to stay in the past or return to their present life and again become tourists, oblivious of the heavy burden of the past that occurred in this very space.

The staging provokes thoughts, allusions, comparisons and that is all to the good. The staging enhances the beauty of Verdi’s music and so has to be described as a success.

The orchestra under the direction of Gianandrea Noseda performed the score with passion and devotion, underlining the tragedy of the heroes’ misunderstanding as described in the libretto.

Anna Netrebko is a talented actress and adopted the character of her heroine so completely that it seemed she was telling the story of her own love and fate. Above all, she showed the vulnerability of Leonore. Her solo scene in the last act was unforgettable.

Netrebko’s voice has both softness and brightness, two features which allow the audience to hear her clearly and pleasurably across the whole vocal range of the role, from the highest notes to the lowest. The ease with which her voice moves along the range is stunning, and it was appreciated by the Salzburg audience who have been her admirers for ten years already.

The role of the doomed Trovatore Manrico was performed by the Italian tenor Francesco Meli whose beautiful voice with impressive cantilena was received by the audience enthusiastically. The villain, Il Conte di Luna, was sung by the Polish baritone Artur Rucinski. His voice is reminiscent of Placido Domingo, who performed opposite Netrebko in Trovatore till last year. Rucinski delivered the same combination of velvet and strength, so that if you closed your eyes you could believe it was Domingo himself. Yekaterina Semenchuk in the role of Azucena brought vocal mastership and high acting qualities to the production.

In this Trovatore all the elements blended naturally: music, scenography, and emotional tension which inspired the soloists’ attachment to their roles.

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