Da Corneto meets challenge of `Il Trovatore’

Chicago Tribune (IL)-November 5, 2003
Author: Richard Covello. Special to the Tribune.
Memo: OPERA REVIEW.
Edition: Chicago Final
Section: Tempo
Page: 3

Once, Verdi’s “Il Trovatore” approached the ABCs (“Aida,” “La Boheme,” “Carmen”) of the repertory in performance frequency. But it has fallen on hard times of late.

It disappeared from Lyric Opera’s schedule for 20 years at one point and was last heard there 10 years ago. So “Trovatore” lovers should be grateful to da Corneto Opera, the curiously named company that puts on two or three operas a year, not only for the chance to hear this work but also for the fact that they did it so stunningly, as heard Sunday in the Church of St. Hilary on Chicago’s Northwest Side.

“Lack of Verdi singers” is the usual excuse for “Trovatore’s” rarity. Moreover, stage directors, unwilling to treat the opera’s unabashed romanticism for what it is, have saddled it with trendy productions from coast to coast. Da Corneto eschews weirdo stagings by doing operas in concert form, with orchestra and chorus, including some works that have always been rare birds (“Lucrezia Borgia,” “La Favorita”).

The company’s founder is Alvaro Ramirez, a first-rate bass who also acts as chorus master, vocal coach, conductor in emergency situations and writer of the supertitles. Ramirez overextended himself by also delivering a spoken synopsis of each act, unnecessary since there was a synopsis in the printed program along with his excellent titles.

“Trovatore’s” libretto usually is called complicated and confusing. It is neither. The libretto tells you everything you need to know. Ramirez might have saved his voice for the role of Ferrando, since he was vocally indisposed on this occasion. However, with the entrance of soprano Rose Guccione as Leonora, the genuine article of Verdi singers took over. Guccione’s voice was simply magnificent from top to bottom, beautifully nuanced in all dynamic ranges.

Her co-star was Simon Kyung Lee, a Manrico who produced a surprisingly Italianate and large sound as well as right-on-the-button high Cs for his “Di quella pira” aria. Mezzo-soprano Barbara Landis-Seid, an attractive young woman, seems to delight in playing deranged ladies, which makes her just right for Azucena. Her lower register was especially impressive; the top secure though not as velvety. Tom Hall’s baritone is powerful but his singing as di Luna was less elegant than his colleagues. Da Corneto’s 38-piece orchestra has never sounded more shipshape than under the baton of Victoria Bond, a Californian with major credits who is making her local debut. Tempos were brisk but never at the singers’ expense. Even without a stageful of anvils, that eponymous chorus worked just fine as did the use of St. Hilary’s choir loft for the offstage wedding organ and the “Miserere” singers.

The bit parts were inadequately done, but one doesn’t go to “Trovatore” for the bit parts.

———-

“Il Trovatore” will be repeated at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Evanston’s Pick-Staiger Concert Hall. For tickets, call 847-662-2694 or visit http://www.ticketweb.com.

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