I attended the April 15 performance of Il Trovatore at Theatre Aquarius with some trepidation. We WagJagged again and found ourselves near the right side of the house in Row E, which led to a much more satisfying opera going experience than sitting closer to the middle in Row B as we had for Il Barbiere in the fall.
Maestro Speers led a diminutive orchestra of 29 players which turned out to be perfectly adequate in this small space. I still had memories of the four front bell horns in Otello, at Hamilton Place some years ago, resonating in my ears, however.
It was thrilling to hear these four first-rate principals at close quarters, but not too close as had been the case for The Barber. It is, none the less, a very dry and difficult acoustic, orders of magnitude the inferior of Hamilton Place or the Four Seasons Centre.
Joni Henson was a fine Leonora. She hasn't the "floaty" pianissimos that one sometimes hears in this role (and are indicated in the score) but I personally didn't miss them. She possesses a beautiful full soprano, acts convincingly and has a physical presence that persuades us that the the Count di Luna and Manrico might both have fallen for her.
Amelia Boteva, as Azucena, started carefully (Stride la vampa is, after all, virtually the first thing she sings) but grew stronger as the opera progressed. She matched the other singers vocally and is a fine actor who melodramatically depicted this over the top character.
Tenor Richard Margison has sung Manrico hundreds times and seemed more comfortable in this role than he did as Bacchus in Ariadne auf Naxos when I heard him last at the COC. He sang and portrayed his character assuredly. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that he experienced every singer's nightmare, what seemed to be something on his chords during the Di quella pira, a harrowing experience both for him and this audience member. He was back in form for Act IV.
James Westman, as Conte di Luna was surely the star of the show. He has a beautiful baritone voice, with a secure ringing top and is tall and handsome besides. Surely he will soon be featured at Covent Garden and the Met.
A special mention to Mia Lennox-Williams who did an excellent job as Leonora's lady in waiting, Inez. She matched Joni Henson vocally when they sang together, no mean feat for a second mezzo.
The production is rather spare with a simple set and projections. The female chorus was adequate but the male chorus was simply awful and the staging and performance of the Squilli, echeggi la tromba chorus was unintentionally comical.
Manrico got the sequins on his coat entangled in the dying Leonara's wig resulting in giggles from the audience, in what is supposed to be a touching moment, as he attempted to get free.
All things considered, I've got to give full marks to Artistic Director David Speer for putting together this excellent cast of principal singers. These are, after all, the same singers one would hear at the COC, in a smaller house without the hassle associated with a trip to TO. Bravo.
It's unfortunate that other production values must be sacrificed to meet the company's bottom line. Building a subscriber base requires a commitment from folks who are not necessarily big opera fans and, for whom, really top notch singers may be less important than the general impression the production creates.