IL TROVATORE – Opening Night A Stunning Success for San Francisco Opera

Nicola Luisotti makes a masterful debut as the Company’s new Music Director

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By Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Photo by Lynn Imanaka

The evening belonged to Maestro Nicola Luisotti. He was hot and in control. The sympatico between him and the lead singers, the orchestra and chorus was completely electric. His tempos were Classic in every sense – staying brisk during recitatives where the plot needs to be advanced and both smart and indulgent during the opera’s savory collection of beloved arias and ensembles. Nicola Luisotti made an ideal team of his diversely gifted and stellar cast. Il Trovatore is a masterpiece in the Italian Repertoire and an enduring treasure in the history of San Francisco Opera. For the singers and devotees of the score, the evening was pure Giuseppi Verdi. For newcomers, long-term subscribers, and intrepid financial supporters – it is clear that General Director David Gockley and his choice of Nicola Luisotti as the Company’s new Musical Director hold the key to San Francisco Opera’s future success and its internationally respected position in the world of grand opera.

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DAVID GOCKLEY and NICOLA LUISOTTI

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Sondra Radvanovsky (Leonora). Photo, Cory Weaver

Sondra Radvanovsky is the “Leonora” of our time. Her lilting dramatic coloratura soprano is perfectly suited for the complex demands of the role. In Act I, during the cabaletta “Di tale amor che dirsi”, she soared to a sparkling High C with the same commanding agility as she settled into the low resonance of the A-flat. The “D’amor sull’ali rosee” – far off into Act IV – was sweetly reminiscent of another legendary Leonora, the great Leontyne Price.

Tenor Marco Berti performed the title role of the troubador “Manrico” earlier this year at the Metropolitan Opera and will recreate it again in December at Barcelona. His Verdi repertoire includes “Radamès” (Aïda), “Ricardo” (Un Ballo In Maschera), and the title role in Don Carlos. He was a versatile and convincing match in each of his guises – as the protective son of Azucena, the lover of Leonora, and the sworn enemy of Count Di Luna who turns out to be his brother. The competitive and sometimes treacherous aspect of the role of “Manrico” is the optional and final High C of “Di quella pira” in Act III. Mr. Berti delivered the goods, distinguishing himself with his securely placed tone and sustained endurance.

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Marco Berti (Manrico) and Sondra Radvanovsky. Photo, Terrence McCarthy

Tenor Marco Berti performed the title role – the troubador, “Manrico” – earlier this year at the Metropolitan Opera and will recreate it again in December at Barcelona. His Verdi repertoire includes “Radamès” (Aïda), “Ricardo” (Un Ballo In Maschera), and the title role in Don Carlos. He was a versatile and convincing match in each of his guises – as the protective son of Azucena, the lover of Leonora, and the sworn enemy of Count Di Luna — who turns out to be his brother and executioner. The competitive and sometimes treacherous aspect of the role of “Manrico” is the climactic (but optional) and final High C of “Di quella pira” in Act III. Mr. Berti more than delivered the goods, belting us a confident and beautiful tone along along with sporting a bit of extra length on the final count. After all, it was Opening Night.

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Dmitri Hvorostovsky (Count di Luna). Photo, Cory Weaver

Dmitri Hvorostovsky again proves himself as the ideal leading man and consummate dramatic baritone. The role of the “Count Di Luna” is among the most demanding in the Verdi repertoire. The character must convey depths of rage and unending fires of vengeance. He is tormented by his desire for Leonora and confounded by the seeming impenetrability of the convent wall. Mr. Hvorostovsky demonstrated his incredible range of tenderness and driving aggression throughout his “Il balen del suo sorriso” (The flashing of her smile) and “Per me, ora fatale” (Come to me, Death). His classic bearing and theatrical bravado supports the heavy demands of the opera’s complex and gory plot. His current schedule is packed with Verdi’s greatest baritone roles, including “Rigoletto”, the elder “Germont” (La Traviata), and “Renato” (Un Ballo In Maschera). He will sing the next five performances through October 1st. Quinn Kelsey, last season’s “Marcello” in La Boheme, will take over the role of Di Luna October 4th and 6th.

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Burak Bilgili (Ferrando), Stephanie Blythe (Azucena) and
Dmitri Hvorostovsky (Count di Luna). Photo, Cory Weaver

My vote for MVP goes to Stephanie Blythe as the gypsy, “Azucena”. The role is a killer – literally and figuratively. It is the stuff of a popular theatre medium referred to as “Grand Guignol”. It appeals to the darkest elements in the human psyche and the most disturbing of images. Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd fits easily into this category. Azucena has witnessed her mother’s death at the fiery stake, accused of sorcery and of being a witch. Simultaneously, the young Azuncena has thrown her own child into the flames. The clean-up crew believed the charred bones to be that of the kidnapped son of the elder Count Di Luna. Hence, years of unfulfilled revenge.

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STEPHANIE BLYTHE, as Azucena. Photo, Cory Weaver

The contralto elements of Ms. Blythe’s deeply dramatic tone are clear and sonorous. Throughout the more than two octave stretch of her two major arias, “Stride la vampa” and “Condotta elle’era in ceppi”, her voice remained balanced and free of breaks and shifts. Stephanie Blythe gave a masterful performance. She’s bound to be a knock-out at AT&T Ballpark come the simulcast this Saturday, September 19th. For more information: Opera At The Ballpark

Il Trovatore will continue Wednesday, 9/16; Saturday, 9/19; Tuesday, 9/22; Friday, 9/25; Thursday, 10/1; Sunday, 10/4; and Tuesday, 10/6. For more information: IL TROVATORE

IL TROVATORE, Act II. Photo, Cory Weaver

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Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Seán Martinfield, who also serves as Fine Arts Critic, is a native San Franciscan. He is a Theatre Arts Graduate from San Francisco State University, a professional singer, and well-known private vocal coach to Bay Area actors and singers of all ages and persuasions. His clients have appeared in Broadway National Tours including Wicked, Aïda, Miss Saigon, Rent, Bye Bye Birdie, in theatres and cabarets throughout the Bay Area, and are regularly featured in major City events including Diva Fest, Gay Pride, and Halloween In The Castro. As an Internet consultant in vocal development and audition preparation he has published thousands of responses to those seeking his advice concerning singing techniques, professional and academic auditions, and careers in the Performing Arts. Mr. Martinfield’s Broadway clients have all profited from his vocal methodology, “The Belter’s Method”, which is being prepared for publication. If you want answers about your vocal technique, post him a question on AllExperts.com. If you would like to build up your vocal performance chops and participate in the Bay Area’s rich theatrical scene, e-mail him at: sean.martinfield@comcast.net.

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