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Il Trovatore from the Verona Arena
on 4 December 2011
Il Trovatore is not well served on DVD. There are significant flaws in all of the available recordings. This is perhaps not surprising for such a well-known and popular opera which requires four first class soloists in the main roles. Usually the problem is that one of the four main principals is weak or wayward. Here in this 1985 performance from the Arena di Verona that is not the case, the four principals are all vocally excellent. One can quibble about some of their individual interpretations and approaches but they are all first-rate singers. The real problem with this performance is that it is poorly directed. It is a very static performance and generally very poorly acted. The chorus in particular are dreadful when it comes to any acting of their roles. Their singing is adequate but not outstanding. The fight sequences are laughable. Added to this is the problem that because this is the Arena di Verona the performance is constantly being interrupted by shouts and applause from the audience and grandstanding by the performers who regularly step completely out of character in order to acknowledge the audience applause. This requires joining hands and walking from side to side of the wide stage at several points. This completely ruins the narrative of the story.
The ony real pluses here are in the vocal quality of the four main principals. Three great Italian singers are joined by the English soprano Rosalind Plowright as Leonora. This is a role she was justly famous for singing, including a classic CD recording with Giulini. Here she shows why she was in great demand in this role because she not only looks the part unlike many of her rivals of the time, but she acts it well too. She and Giorgio Zancanaro as the Count di Luna are the best actors of the four principals. Zancanaro is also a very good vocal interpreter of his role but is not in the same league as Dimitri Hvorostovsky who gives the definitive interpretation of this role in the DVD from Covent Garden. Rosalind Plowright is one of the best Leonoras available on DVD, she is vocally excellent, particularly in the lower register. She was later to move into the mezzo-soprano register and some of the problems she had with the higher register are evident here but not to any great extent and this is overall an excellent performance from her and a good record of her importance in this role.
As for the other two principals, they are classic Italian performers of their respective roles. Fiorenza Cossotto is, of course, vocally unrivalled as Azucena and is here still in excellent voice. Her acting is rather stylised and perhaps does not bear the close analysis that a DVD recording brings but she is always convincing and it is great to have this recording of her performance late in her career. Franco Bonisolli is a very good Manrico, he has all the range and heroic top notes required in this role. He is however, best in the quieter passages, he is particularly excellent in the closing scene in his duets with Leonora and Azucena. He does tend to get carried away by the crowd and overpush the volume to the detriment of quality on the big numbers noticeably for 'Di quella pira' which is rough to start with and gets even worse in the encore demanded by the crowd. However these are minor problems in what is generally a very good performance. He is not, however a particularly good actor.
The sound is variable and there is a lot of loss in volume as the characters move around the huge stage. The orchestra is caught very well and the soloists are recorded well most of the time, so this is not a huge problem. There is a single Dolby digital 2.0 soundtrack. The picture is perfectly decent although it is only in 4 : 3 format.