Crush taken by someone else? In the Opera world that’s enough to challenge him to a duel, capture his mother and threaten to burn her at the stake. And for girls: Lover at risk? Take poison so you can die dramatically in his arms. These Italians have quite the burning passions and Verdi’s Il Trovatore is a prime example of this. In order for us more rationally-minded individuals to take this seriously-- to have a chance at connecting with revenge so bitter or a love so overwhelming-- we have to hear the passion in their song and see it in their face and body language. But when the talent on stage is more worried about lining up their notes with the orchestra and managing their vocal technique, the intensity of the drama is lost.
The whole Opera San Jose production seemed on Sunday afternoon like it was a few sizes too big for the company. The stage, the orchestra, the chorus, the depth of feeling portrayed by the cast didn’t rise to the grand challenge that Verdi summons. Even the famous Anvil Chorus, usually a rousing number that energizes the scenes after it was underwhelming and plagued by timing issues. And I've never seen Gypsies so well off in matching leather uniforms and an arsenal of crossbows and axes. On the aristocratic side, the fancy-fabric costumes were lovely.
From the beginning there was something missing. When Ferrando (Matthew Anchel), Captain of the guard tells the soldiers the story of the possessed gypsy woman who stole the count’s baby, none of the terror was conveyed. The band of soldiers tried to convey fear but it came off more comical than scary. Anchel looked like he was singing lieder rather than Opera with nothing but the occasional fist grab in the air in the way of stage direction. At first it came off as restraint-- I could understand restraint in Mozart or Handel but never Verdi. But after seeing that this lack of energy pervaded the entire cast, it was clear that they were more focused on singing correctly than telling a story. That said, on a purely vocal level Anchel’s bass voice sounded pretty strong in his OSJ debut. He just needs to loosen up and work on his acting. Baritone Evan Brummel suffered from some of the same issues. As a moon-faced Count di Luna he sang well but didn't inspire fear. In the title role of Manrico the troubadour, James Callon gave a strong effort, beaming with a strong voice.
Soprano Melody King as Leonora was impressive in a few of her arias, especially in Mira, di acerbe lagrime but there were some ensemble problems as well. Rebecca Krouner as Azucena was one of the only cast members to let loose-- the 1 Cast needs to latch on to that kind of energy. They sang well but couldn't quite become their characters-- perhaps they were too worried about being together with the pit accompaniment. Holding Opera San Jose to a high standard, I hope that they will rebound in the rest of the run and especially in Puccini's Gianni Schicchi and Sour Angelica coming up next.