Theatre Royal, Glasgow
then touring until June 13
Reviewed by Mark Brown
In Scottish Opera’s latest work, Verdi’s great opus Il Trovatore, the Count di Luna has lost comprehensively to his love rival, Manrico. Yet, despite being widely reviled, the aristocrat refuses to accept his defeat and will stop at nothing in pursuit of his heart’s desire. Any similarities with the former MP for Renfrewshire East are, of course, purely coincidental.
Inadvertent though this contemporary political resonance may be, director Martin Lloyd-Evans’s production wins the audience’s vote with a handsome majority. It does so by keeping the opera resolutely in a late medieval Spain which is riven by civil war and in which superstition and hatred of gypsies are rife.
The Count (leader of the King of Aragon’s army) is driven by his jealous hatred of Manrico (the titular “troubadour” and officer in the rival army of the Prince of Urgel). To the Count’s rage, Manrico is beloved of the beautiful lady-in-waiting Leonora.
The jealous aristo has inherited a vicious ruthlessness from his father. The old Count it was who had a gypsy woman burned at the stake on trumped charges of bewitching his baby son, thus setting in a train a calamitous chain of events.
A tragedy of witch burning, war and violent jealousy, this opera demands a bleak grandeur, both in design and performance. The inventive and memorable set design – which, intriguingly, is extrapolated from a design concept for Scottish Opera’s 1992 production – fits the bill marvellously.
Dark, brooding and premonitory, yet surprisingly versatile, it is dominated by monolithic, curved structures which stand in equally well for the stone exterior of a castle, the interior of a nunnery and what seem like the wooden confines of the Count’s jail. Impressively receptive to projected images, the design lends itself brilliantly to the elemental illusions of smoke and flame.
Such visual atmospherics would count for little, however, without performances to match. Both cast and chorus measure up abundantly.
Roland Wood sings the role of the Count with a forceful arrogance and cruelty, whilst Claire Rutter’s Leonora breaks one’s heart when she sings the great aria Tacea la notte placida (The peaceful night lay silent). The delivery of the famous Gypsy Chorus is truly invigorating.
As to the troubadour himself. Gwyn Hughes Jones sings with a combination of spine-tingling power and magnetic sympathy.
He wanders the stage like a ragged rebel leader, more akin to the defiant partisan who faces the firing squad in Goya’s great painting Third Of May, 1808 than a royal soldier of 15th-century Spain. Both a lover and a fighter (albeit one who outrageously doubts Leonora’s constancy during the opera’s anguished conclusion), his performance epitomises a production which is simultaneously robust, vital and splendidly accomplished
For tour details, visit: http://www.scottishopera.org.uk
This review was originally published in the Sunday Herald on May 17, 2015
© Mark Brown