The reason for my trip all the way to Munich was Anja Harteros. I had heard her in Don Carlos in London last year, and I got a very good impression: a truly Verdian voice, so I wanted to hear her in Trovatore, which, in my opinion, has the two best and most difficult soprano arias that Verdi has ever written. I was not disappointed. The woman starts from a great base: a naturally dark, round voice, with all her high notes properly covered. And man, a legato… a legato that will make you melt, natural, “easy”, simply wonderful. D’amor sull’ali rosee gave everybody goosebumps. It is so easy to do this aria badly, glissando to reach the high notes, or jumping on them like a screaming hen. Flying to the high notes, with legato, without glissando, leaving them dark and covered, and strong, and full, is an art that not many singers can master. Moreover, the woman has clearly studied Callas, I’m not saying she’s imitating Callas, but in the recitativi, and in the final scene, where she dies, you could feel Maria hovering (I’m not making comparisons, I’m just saying that Harteros has probably studied her interpretation, or maybe she hasn’t: it’s really hard to sing Leonora without thinking of Callas, albeit subconsciously). Her “Prima che d’altri vivere io volli tua morir” (I chose to die while yours, rather than live for another) got a tear from me. Brava Anja! She is my appointed Verdian singer of her generation (I can’t stand Radvanovsky, sorry).
The scene was insane, as usual, but overall it worked. The style was “steampunk”, gears, steam engines, goth-like costumes.
Azucena’s mother, the gypsy burned at the stake 20 years before, whose murder set the whole shebang in motion, was almost always on stage, an actress barefoot and disheveled, who, with her ominous presence, reminded everybody the tragedy we’re talking about in this opera. This worked fairly well, and gave the right tone to the story. Then, we had choices of the director absolutely impossible to understand. For example, Leonora was blind. Why, Lord of Hosts, why? No clue. Or, a lot of religious symbols, monks singing the “Miserere” in white robes and white hoods (KKK-like), crosses everywhere, some even on fire (maybe it was a reference to the KKK after all?); in my opinion all these religious hints were completely misplaced, the burning of the original “which” was not religion-based, it was based on superstition and vengeance.
Azucena was Anna Smirnova, a typical Slavic voice, dark and very metallic. I’m not crazy about metallic Slavic voices, but I must say she brought home Azucena with great confidence. First of all she has a huge terrifying voice, which is also very uniform, without those unpleasant “jumps” in the passaggio, typical of Slavic metallic voices. Then she can also manage remarkable high notes, not shrill at all. In short, she has a very good technique. Very good actress: in her great scene (where she tells about burning her own baby) she really gave you the creeps. The audience approved, welcoming her on stage at the end with a booming cheer (second only to Harteros’).
Yonghoon Lee is a Korean tenor who can be definitely defined as a “spinto”. A voice of years past, it’s like listening to a recording of one of those screaming tenors in the 50s, except, nowadays he has a much better technique, and he doesn’t scream. He has a fantastic “squillo” (ring) in his voice, the problem is that he doesn’t have much else. He started badly, probably a bit nervous in the initial serenade (which, to be honest, is very unsupported), he showed even intonation problems, but they were solved very quickly. The worst thing is the incredible strain that he shows in singing in Italian, his tongue seems to tie up, he’s not natural at all (yes, I know, “you try singing in Korean, smartypants”). I mean, in the end all the vowels come out, but you feel exhausted for him. After a while you get used to it though… in any case he’s good, really good, I wish there were more tenors with such high notes around. The took “La Pira” down half a tone, does anybody know if they have EVER done the “pira” in C live in the last 40 years?
The “Conte di Luna” was Vitaliy Bilyy, another Slavic metallic voice, but with less technique than Smirnova. The result was a good big voice, but the legato was only so-so, and the coloratura was all with the glottis (ga ga ga ga ga). I didn’t like him very much, not so much as booing him, but I didn’t applaud (I’m sure he noticed and will deeply meditate on his faults /s).
Oh, the orchestra. I never notice the orchestra in Munich, and this is already telling. It never gives me strong impressions, other than of a stable, honest accompaniment. The director, Paolo Carignani, is great in supporting the singers, waiting for them and letting them breath. And this is extremely important, but there is no much else.
Special mention for the chorus!! The different choruses were maybe the most exciting moments of the whole night, and the “anvil chorus” really phenomenal. It is such a renowned melody, I’ve heard it a million times, and still I enjoyed it immensely. And a “Miserere” which made me shudder, great interpretation. Bravi!