The Times, July 11 2013
Neil Fisher
Verdi: Il trovatore, Bayerische Staatsoper, Juni/Juli 2013
Il trovatore at Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich
Weep, British opera fans, that the new dream team in opera, soprano Anja Harteros and tenor Jonas Kaufmann, lives in Munich. But rejoice that no opera company on our island would dream of inflicting on us a production as perverse as Olivier Py’s Il trovatore.

First, though, the singing. No Verdi opera is easy to cast, but Trovatore is one of the most fiendish. Kaufmann’s Manrico, the gypsy “troubadour” of the title, continued to prove that he can carry off both Germanic heft and Italianate style. The tenor’s husky voice is now undoubtedly weighted more towards the dramatic than the lyrical, but he vaulted over all the vocal challenges, caressing the grace notes of Ah si, ben mio, before swaggering through a testosterone-infused Di Quella Pira. As ever with Kaufmann it is all done with great musicality and theatrical insight.

Harteros (a much more elusive presence outside Germany and Austria than Kaufmann) was a spellbinding Leonora, spinning her powerful soprano through some gorgeously limpid lines — meltingly ardent but fiery when roused to one of Verdi’s scorching climaxes. It’s hard to imagine the role sung better. The Munich audience demanded tenor and soprano back again and again for their curtain calls.

The rest of the cast was strong, particularly Elena Manistina’s feisty Azucena (though she’s far too young to act Kaufmann’s mother) and Kwangchul Youn’s Ferrando. Alexey Markov boomed effectively as Count di Luna. Paolo Carignani conducted lustily, favouring dramatic momentum over orchestral detail.

So that leaves the men in pig masks, the naked women and the blow-up sex dolls. There are fleeting moments in Py’s folie de grandeur where he locates some of the diablerie implicit in Verdi’s blood’n’guts drama. But any real insights are washed away in soggy stagecraft and look-at-me posturing. Your chance to disagree in November, when the production returns — with Kaufmann but without Harteros. The two are reunited in December, however, for Verdi’s La forza del destino.

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