No opera — this side of Wagner’s “Ring,” anyhow — brooks more deserved ridicule for its plot absurdity than “Il Trovatore.” No opera surmounts these absurdities — long-lost siblings, mistaken identities by the bushel-loads, musical gorgeousness that conquereth all — better than Verdi’s white-hot drama. Like its “Marriage of Figaro,” Los Angeles Opera’s “Il Trovatore” — first staged in 1998 and currently revived for nine performances through June 20 — offers much to offend the eye and much more to delight the ear.
Set designer Benoit Dugardyn conceives of a romantic Spain set in a series of backyards enclosed in floor-to-ceiling weathered lumber in movable panels. Swords are everywhere — stuck into the ground, suspended from above, turned a menacing red in Paul Pyant’s symbolic lighting. Gusts of flame burst from the stage floor at certain moments. A ballet, wisely dropped in most productions — and set to a rehash of music previously heard — has been unaccountably restored; it drew boos on opening night. Andrew George’s choreography calls for the Count di Luna’s soldiers to carry on a gang rape on prisoners: as up-to-date as today’s headlines, in other words, and as deplorable.
Much of this is outweighed by the exemplary work of the vocal quartet that dominates what really matters in Verdi’s opera — three quarters of it, at any rate. As the put-upon Leonora, American soprano Sondra Radvanovsky has swiftly emerged in the last few years from “Sondra who?” status into all-star quality, her voice a rich, dark-toned instrument beautifully managed, her technique as close to flawless as never mind.
As the hapless troubadour Manrico, Franco Farina was almost as good, several steps up from his so-so work in the ill-considered “Turandot” of two seasons ago. The dazzling Azucena of mezzo-soprano Dolora Zajic is no longer news; if any singer can be said to own a role on all international stages, she’s the one. Only the tentative, merely not-bad Di Luna of Roberto Frontali fell somewhat short of this vocal splendor.
In the pit there was Lawrence Foster’s workmanlike musical leadership, to which “not bad” also applies. After all, nobody goes to “Il Trovatore” for the conducting — or for the scenery, for that matter.