Giuseppe Verdi's initial titles for his opera "Il Trovatore" focused not on the troubadour Manrico but on the Gypsy Azucena -- "La Zingara" ("The Gypsy") or "La Vendetta" ("The Revenge"). On Thursday evening, the Washington National Opera presented a case for the original titles with a second cast whose Azucena proved the production's saving grace. Carting a wounded Manrico onto the Kennedy Center Opera House stage, Russian mezzo-soprano Elena Manistina made a poignant entrance as the tormented Azucena. Her voluminous voice, bright in the soprano range, toffee-like in the alto, was solid all night with a colorful depth and emotion too often lacking in her male counterparts' voices. Her singing was infused with a haunting, moving drama -- subito pianissimos, subdued crescendos -- that created empathy and inspired the rest of the cast.
As Manrico, tenor Carl Tanner gave a spirited performance, though he sounded a bit hoarse, his tone one-dimensional at times. Indeed, the Arlington native tended to sacrifice tone for a strained volume throughout the night. He was decidedly better -- fluid and sonorous -- when he didn't have to compete with the full orchestra and chorus.
Italian baritone Roberto Servile's Count di Luna started out with a conservative, stony sound, unwilling to trespass beyond mezzo forte. When he broke free of that mold in the second act, he projected a passionate, supple voice, though sometimes he was sluggish in following Music Director Heinz Fricke's precise, zippy tempos.
The rest of the cast warmed to these newcomers quickly, giving confident and eager performances.
-- Grace Jean