By its end, the Metropolitan Opera's "Il Trovatore" (which played, for unexplained reasons, at the Opera House last night) was not quite as bad as the beginning. Leonora and Manrico (soprano Gilda Cruz-Romo and tenor Juan Lloveras) had taken heart, perhaps because they saw the end in sight, and gained some measure of control over their erratic voices. Azucena (Bianca Berini) had worn out her repertoire of four grand gestures and was lying passively in a corner, occasionally singing a snatch of the exquisite melody "Ai nostri monti," quietly and without excessive vibrato. The Count di Luna (Louis Quilico) maintained the vocal and dramatic solidity that had been his throughout the evening, making him the most reliable member of the cast if not unusually inspiring.
By then, this production was almost up to the level of an earnest, unpretentious provincial company--the kind where you might expect to pay up to $10 for a good seat. There was, finally some shadow of a reason for applause, which had been given at the mandatory points all evening--sometimes more than politely. But what justification the Metropolitan Opera had, in dragging this production more than 200 miles to a city with a reasonable standard of operatic taste, is hard to imagine. It was more than an insult to the audience; it was a disgrace to a company that bears a y moved upward in range: an adequate baritone, an interesting but odd mezzo, a tenor with good tone and adequate style but occasional pitch problems and a soprano whose upper and lower registers hardly seemed to belong to the same person.
Nello Santi conducted an adequately balanced and paced performance, but one that seemed half a century out of date in its dramatic dimension. There was absolutely no evidence that this production had any stage direction, except the name of Bruce Donnell in the program. Again and again there were scenes where singers who were supposed to be talking intensely to one another simply turned and faced the audience as they sang.
All the choruses were musically vivid, but the singers stood as though paralyzed until the time came to file offstage. The duel between Manrico and the Count would need considerable polishing to make it merely ludicrous. And the crowning dramatic moment came in Act III when Azucena, with her hands tied behind her back, managed to get her right arm loose for one dramatic gesture before docilely putting it behind her back again. "Trovatore" is hopeless dramatically, of course, no matter what you do, but with a bit of effort some of its scenes can be effective theater. Last night's performance drew occasional laughter for a work that is without a single moment of intentional humor.
One must assume that the scenery was symbolic, since it certainly was not realistic. The military costumes must have been authentic for some place in some period. Otherwise, they were totally without justification.
While he was composing "Trovatore," Giuseppe Verdi seriously considered naming it "Azucena" for the Gypsy woman whose incredible bad judgment (throwing her own baby into a fire in a classic case of mistaken identity) is the root of the muddled plot. While Berini's performance lacked the polish and coherence of a great interpretation, there were momentary flashes of tension and power that showed why the opera might have had that name. Her voice was seldom beautiful (often tinged with a vibrato that hovered at the edge of a wobble without quite going over), but frequently compelling. It was not a performance designed to pull this disintegrating production together, but at least it gave the audience something to watch while waiting to see whether the "Miserere" scene would work.
It did, not spectacularly but more adequately than anyone had a reason to expect. The evening was not quite a total loss, but it came breathtakingly close. It is hard to imagine that the Metropolitan Opera's management does not realize how bad this production is, but perhaps it does not yet understand that some people outside of New York can also tell.