A gripping “Trovatore” at Lyric Opera

The “Anvil Chorus” from Il Trovatore at the Lyric Opera. (Photo courtesy of the Lyric Opera)

What: “Il Trovatore”
Where: Lyric Opera,
20 N. Wacker Dr.
When: Through Dec. 9
Tickets: Lyricopera.org

By M.L. RANTALA
Classical Music Critic

Giuseppe Verdi’s “Il Trovatore” (“The Troubadour”) is now being presented at Lyric Opera of Chicago in a sizzling production that combines great singing and dramatic visuals. The four-act opera runs two hours and 40 minutes (with a single intermission) and, in spite of a fanciful story, never flags or disappoints.

American soprano Tamara Wilson makes her Lyric debut as Leonora, the woman loved by two men who are bitter enemies. She brings vocal heft to the role of a lover who dies in a vain attempt to save the man she loves. Her voice is spacious and gleaming, and she sings with confidence and glowing sound.

Also making a Lyric debut is Polish baritone Artur Rucinski as the ruthless Count di Luna, the man Leonora does not love but who will do anything to have her. He has tremendous projection and brings a range of color to his singing. He has the swagger of an aristocrat, and he easily conveys a sense of danger.

American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton is a stunning Azucena, the gypsy who lives for revenge. She has a coffee-rich darkness to her voice, and her storytelling ability is tremendous. Azucena in the wrong hands can appear to be a silly or demented old woman, but Barton imbues the character with ominous power.

The title role of Manrico (the troubadour) is in solid hands with American tenor Russell Thomas. He has the bearing of both a lover and a fighter, but seems to force some of his top notes.

The smaller roles also are sung well, with the standout being Italian bass Roberto Tagliavini as Ferrando, who gets the opera started by telling soldiers the important backstory of the opera: years ago a gypsy stole the Count’s brother and all that was ever found after an exhaustive search were infant bones in ashes.

The Lyric Opera Chorus is in fine form. The “Anvil Chorus,” one of the most well known tunes from all of opera, is presented with vigor and excitement, including tremendous and raucous clanking on real anvils. The chorus provides depth and color at every turn, whether they are rambunctious soldiers or devout nuns.

Marco Armiliato conducts the Lyric Opera Orchestra with a steady hand and elicits vibrant and robust sound from the pit.

Sir David McVicar originally directed the production, with sets by Charles Edwards and costumes by Brigitte Reiffenstuel. This revival is directed with flair by Roy Rallo (another Lyric debut), who shuns the silly and the camp, and keeps the story dark. The pacing is excellent and the settings for the eight different scenes always complement the drama. The scene changes are rapid as a revolving wall moves to create a castle one moment and a nun’s cloister at another.

“Il Trovatore” is burdened with what is essentially an utterly ridiculous story that centers on the fact that a woman with her own baby kidnaps another baby and “in her confusion” tosses her own child onto a deadly fire. Believe that and you’ll believe anything. Nonetheless, Verdi’s fantastic music, this fine cast, and the deft work of the creative team all combine to make this “Trovatore” a rip-roaring evening of excitement and tragedy. Don’t miss it.