Reprinted from yesterday's late edition.
In New York City, where going to the Metropolitan Opera can be a way of life, there are some hardy, legendary souls who will stand in line for days on end, through blizzards, exhaust fumes, muggings and other features of winter life in Manhattan to be sure of getting standing-room tickets for a particularly choice performance.
In that same spirit, several hundred brave opera-lovers - by no means the crowd that might have been expected - came with ponchos, umbrellas, blankets and protective plastic sheets to sit on the grass at Wolf Trap and shiver through a performance of "Il Trovatore" that began like the weather, cold and windy, but later warmed up.
Unfortunately, the weather did not improve, though the threatened rain (or was it hail?) stayed away. Virginia Monday night was not for opera lovers. What a pity the weather was not composed by Verdi and conducted by the excellent James Levine.
Under the protection of the vast shed (a structure that sometimes looks to me like the biggest carport in the world), the scene was more like a traditional operatic opening night though with some variations. Formal wear was abundantly present, but much of it was abundantly present, but much of it was covered by raincoats and top coats. A few lucky souls had an unusual opportunity to display their fur coats in June, and took full advantage of it.
How much the weather affected the music would be hard to say - some instruments are hard to keep in tune at low temperatures, and fingers numbed by cold are less nimble on the strings. But the Metropolitan orchestra gave no sign of discomfort; the balances were excellent throughout, and Levine kept the music going at a good dramatic pace.
I doubt that the weather can be blamed for the vocal unevenness of Cornell MacNeil, who sang the role of the Count di Luna, and Renata Scotto, who sang Leonara. Both were generally reliable, if not dazzling, through most of the opera, but when you are singing at the Metropolitan, a few small flaws can seem very large.
"Il Trovatore" is an opera for singers who are primarily magnificent animals, with massive lungs, platinum-lined vocal cords and not enough brains to notice how ridiculous are the words to their glorios music. Scotto's very human performance gave the role a dimension it does not always have even with all her swooning, a counterpart to the male singers' blustering, strutting and unconvincing sword play, she managed to make the role almost convincing in the "Miserere" scene and at the end.
The best singing and acting of the evening was produced by Gwendolyn Killibrew, a substitute for Mignon Dunn, who was in turn a substitute for Elena Obratsova. Verdi at one point had considered calling this opera "Azucena," and her presentation of this role makes it easy to see why Shifting from tearful memory to blazing anger to humble supplication and at the very end, wrath incarnate and triumphant, she made the role not exactly convincing but certainly powerful. Her voice was as rich as her dramatic nuances were varied.