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Hothouse passions

Karajan's 'Il Trovatore' -
reviewed by

'... wonderfully and indeed relentlessly captured ...'

Giuseppe Verdi: Il Trovatore. Directed for stage by Herbert von Karajan - Live Recording 1978. © 1978 ORF, 2004 TDK Marketing Europe GmbH

Hans Richter's Trovatore performances got faster and faster, shorter and shorter, the more he came to dislike the work. By contrast it was a Karajan favourite, though I have no means of comparing their timings. Karajan makes cuts (Richter probably did too), and his tempos are never slow. But Verdi is more than a match for this masterful maestro, demanding top-voltage drama and allowing none of the airless phrasing in these proudly arched tunes that often marred Karajan performances in the concert hall.

Ferrando (José van Dam) tells his tale to the Count's sentries and servants. © ORF/TDK
Ferrando (José van Dam) tells his tale to the Count's sentries and servants. © ORF/TDK

Karajan perfected his television opera technique at Salzburg, demanding the utmost intensity of expression from his singers but little movement. So it is in this his last Trovatore. The Count's servants and sentries listen with rapt concentration to the admirable Ferrando of José van Dam, as he narrates a tale of twenty years before that they must have heard a hundred times. But woe betide any audience that fails to pay attention at this narration; the Trovatore plot would then be unintelligible [listen -- DVD1 Act 1, 'Abbietta zingara'].

Trovatore is essentially an opera of two women, Leonora consumed by love, and Azucena devoured by vengeance. Verdi's own choice was clear: 'If I were a prima donna (a fine thing that would be!) I would always rather sing the part of the Gipsy.' He gave Azucena a terrifying intensity throughout; but as the work progressed, he bolstered Leonora's role so that she should become a proper foil to the raging mezzo.

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Copyright © 21 November 2004 Robert Anderson, London UK


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