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The retired soprano Cecilia Gasdia is now the general manager and artistic director of the Arena di Verona Festival, and is busy re-establishing the summer extravaganza as a major event featuring the big stars of the day, rather than purely a tourist jamboree. Hence she revived Franco Zeffirelli’s production of Il Trovatore and booked Anna Netrebko to make her Arena debut as Leonora alongside a solid cast – Yusif Eyvazof as Manrico, Dolora Zajick as Azucena and Luca Salsi as di Luna. The result is a mixed bag. The daylit opening reeks of Monty Python with its cod-Medieval costumes, but as darkness falls it becomes effective and Zeffirelli’s set of three towers looks spectacular. But you would be hard pressed to think that anyone had stepped into his shoes to direct this revival, which is the ultimate in park and bark. Pier Giorgio Morandi conducts efficiently. Netrebko starts in patchy voice, with viscous tone and optimistic tuning every few phrases, especially when the voice is under pressure. But suddenly things look up and by the Miserere she is in stupendous form, filling arching phrases with an amplitude of sound and floating stunning pianissimi. Eyvazof’s tenor is full of good intentions, but here his voice is so bleaty I panicked I had sat on the remote control and was playing everything at x2. Salsi lacks the sensuality and elegance for di Luna – this Count is just a bully boy. Only Zajick attempts to act, using large-scale gestures suitable for the venue. Her voice is more subtle than of yore, perhaps by necessity, but she can still blast out some thrills at the top and boom some baritonal notes at the opposite end of her range.

Francis Muzzu Read the full review on Agora Classica

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