NEW YORK (AP) — Youth and experience both were well-served as the Metropolitan Opera revived Verdi's "Il Trovatore" for the first time this season: A young soprano made a promising debut, and a veteran mezzo twice her age stole the show.
Saturday's matinee featured the Chinese soprano Guanqun Yu as Leonora, a noblewoman in 15th-century Spain who loves a troubadour but is pursued by the implacable Count di Luna. Yu, who trained in Shanghai and was a winner of the 2012 Operalia competition, has a big, well-focused voice with a warm, gleaming top. She deservedly won an enthusiastic ovation for her opening aria "Tacea la notte placida" and the tricky cabaletta which follows. At this early point in her career, she lacks those melting high pianissimos Verdi often calls for, and her lower register is weak, but overall her singing left a favorable impression. Dramatically she was less successful, relying on stock gestures and expressions that never quite created a sense of character.
The other leading female role is the gypsy Azucena, who has raised the troubadour, Manrico, as her child — even though he is actually the brother of the Count. (It seems that years earlier, the Count's father had her mother burned as a witch; seeking revenge, Azucena tried to throw the Count's baby brother onto the flames, but in her derangement she mistakenly switched him with her own son.)
Mezzo Dolora Zajick has owned this role at the Met for nearly a quarter-century, performing it more than 40 times since her debut in 1988. On Saturday, she showed that at age 60 she has lost none of the visceral power that makes her portrayal so exciting, especially when she hurls out thunderbolts from her lower chest register or cuts through the orchestra with sizzling high notes. Her Azucena is a wild woman, yet sympathetic at the same time, as she struggles between devotion to Manrico and obsession with avenging her mother's murder.
The men in this performance were a variable lot. As the Count, baritone Franco Vasallo started off sounding dry and underpowered, but he rose to the challenge of his lovely serenade, "Il balen," singing with elegance and burnished tone. Tenor Gwyn Hughes-Jones pushed his modest voice to its limits, but his tone rarely rang out heroically, and the high note that ended his call to arms, "Di quella pira!" was shaky. In the supporting role of Ferrando, bass Morris Robinson sang with imposing power and beautiful, rounded tone.
Conductor Daniele Callegari kept things on track effectively, though one wished he had brought more consistent energy to this white-hot score.
David McVicar's production, with Charles Edwards' revolving turntable sets, still does a good job of making the tangled plot seem relatively clear. And the darkly evocative sets are a resourceful way of allowing for swift scene changes as the action — updated here to the early 19th century — moves from castle to gypsy camp to convent and to an array of other locales.