Regular readers of this blog would probably expect that, faced with a Zeffirelli production of Il Trovatore from the Verona Arena, I would run screaming for the hills. The 2019 recording though piqued my interest. The geek in me wanted to see how much difference 4K ultra HD made, having only so far been able to get my paws on a couple of such recordings. I was also aware that it’s quite some time since I’ve heard Anna Netrebko and here she heads up a very appealing looking cast. So I succumbed.
For some reason the Metropolitan opera decided, in 2014, to give an HD broadcast to Otto Schenk’s 1993 version of Dvorák’s Rusalka with revival direction by Laurie Feldman. This production must have seriously old fashioned even then and actually looks and feels like it was created fifty years before the opera was written. It’s not just the dark, dreary, over detailed Arthur Rackham like sets and costumes or even the the stock acting and the lame choreography. The biggest problem is that it completely ignores that Rusalka is essentially about sex and its pathologies. Does Schenk think that Rusalka wants to hold hands with the Prince at the cinema or take the Foreign Princess to the ball instead of Rusalka? You would think so from this Disneyfied version. Has the man even heard of Freud (let’s be clear Dvorák had)? The result then is stultifyingly dull and actually just rather silly. I’ve seen panto with more psychological depth.
Verdi’s Il Trovatore really is a peculiar piece. It’s a bit of a musical hybrid with huge, rousing choruses interspersed with bel canto arias which I suppose is fairly typical of middle period Verdi. It has a truly silly plot (perhaps based on Blackadder’s lost novel) with gypsies, dead babies and improbable coincidences galore. It’s also notoriously hard to cast with five very demanding roles combining a need for flawless bel canto technique with lots of power. David McVicar’s production at the Metropolitan Opera was broadcast in HD in April 2011 and subsequently released on Blu-ray and DVD. I saw the HD broadcast and enjoyed it enough to buy the Blu-ray.