il trovatore in munich


anja harteros


the program

Ever since missing out on the chance to hear Anja Harteros singing Leonora two summers ago I’ve been plotting my way and naturally cleared all schedule to show up here in Munich. A little bit of background: the live radio broadcast of this two years ago was the first time i listened to Il Trovatore. It was re-listened repeatedly in addition to me combing tube watching all available full versions there. So coming in to a first live experience, one has some “preferences” in mind, first being Anja Harteros. Based on radio recording, I had trouble with the constant loudness of JK’s (more later) and the vibration of Azucena, thus was quite ready for a fresh take of the two characters. Also due tendency to skip to loudness + vibration, for me the opera was “Tacea la notte placida”, then some long stuff in between, then Act 4 scene 1, then more loudness plus everyone dies, the end. Live experience then is an opportunity to fill in all those gaps :-).

To jog your memory, here’s a screen-shot of the staging, which also serves as the starting point of discussion:
More precisely, let’s start here:


view from seat “Galerie rechts, türe 2, reihe 1, platz 48”

Compared to that radio recording, the live experience was superbly effective, with perfection in sound balance, precision, and dramatic effect (for my jet-lagged brain). It’s a sequence of music + imagery, single burning cross in the center of endless darkness, Leonora searching for way with her arms extended with dark shaddow watching, distant chorus, sudden change of mood with woodwinds + horns, striking + short violin, Leonora, single plucking string, distant Manrico, distant chorus again. In the radio recording, somehow this balance was lost with Ms. Harteros voice + blurry horn dominating. Last night version, the sound balance was perfect (see positioning in picture as seen from my seat) and most importantly the entrance of horns (green oval) exceptionally precise such that it created then entire scene. Desperately sleepy from jet-lag, i immediately on edge of seat anxiously waiting for the dark unknowns of Leonora’s. Even the dragging chorus worked very well into the darkness here, sort of a whispering voice. Leonora is perfect! Her phrasing is simply exceptional. The funny thing about describing phrasing is that you just have to listen to many other versions to get an idea what works for the mood, and how a singer can capture that, intuition + talent i guess. So, I have no other words to describe except to leave you the the entire scene below to ponder her fate. What a privilege hearing such a voice live.
Ok, now the rest of the performance:

Anna Smirnova as Azucena is *very* good. I was amazed actually the contrast between hearing her live and on radio/video recordings (on 2 different occasions there). In theater one simply doesn’t hear the dominant vibration (what i call it, not sure terminology), but rather a replacement of highly effective phrasing + musical expression. You can follow the character based on her singing alone. Very much like. This helps tremendously in the “filling-in the gap” part. Given how loud she has to sing with orchestra (she didn’t have problem), i was wondering how VK would cope with such a character actually (and more VK’s ref below 😉 ).

Yonghoon Lee as Manrico: I heard him once before as Don Jose in Carmen at Hollywood Bowl, which doesn’t say a whole lot since the sound was blasting out of speakers. Inevitably he reminded me of why JK was so good in musical expression, at least at the beginning where I just didn’t like his phrasing at all (in my poorly musical ear, the emphasis of the phrases was somehow always on the wrong point..) Then came this scene
snap_manrico and magically his phrasing suddenly all aligned with my head! and i reminded of this interview where VK said along the line: (paraphrasing) “we’re singers, thus we take in breath, sing a phrase, then act” , and yet somehow it works just like that in this scene and beyond. quite cool! His dynamic range is also quite nicely displayed, not all the time “loud”, though I’m now suspecting where the mic are during recording has a lot to do w/ sound balance we get on audio vs live experience. Character-wise, he was sort of a passive mother-boy trying to act more macho than who he was at the beginning, some of which was mainly Lee’s a-bit-rigid-acting, but it worked well into the character.
Vitaliy Bilyy as The Count: audibly i think he’s just a tiny bit on the weak side but there are some very nice passages, including the prolonged duet with Leonora. Again the inevitable comparison: I preferred the one radio based on sound balance.

Staging: I really like the scene above, much much more simple compared to all other scenes, darkness where music + singers shine :-). The bed scene with Azucena + Manrico, totally a scene out of “law and order, SVU” if you follow that show. At times things are way too busy, but the luxury of seeing live is you get to pick where your focus is.
Conductor: Paolo Carignani: super like his take, so much more sound balance compared to radio recording, i think again it has to do with locations of mic versus my position. As a result, simply fataaaastic orchestra playing, no complaint!
Clarinetist: BEAUTIFUL!!! (the playing part, i was too far to see her face 😉 ). She has some realllllly nice duet with Leonora and the Count, the first part always gives me goosebumps, the way Anja Harteros took and lifted the note with clarinet providing the bed (to the Alps beautiful scenery 😉 ).

Think i missed a few more points somewhere.. such as attention-demanding Harteros whenever she’s on stage even when not singing. I’ve concluded it’s completely justified to pay the higher price to also “see” her well in addition to hearing ;-). I didn’t dear readers, rather opted for my usual “cheaper” seats up in galerie where the sound was perfect with a clear view of the orchestra, will I ever self-negotiate to come closer and miss orchestra?
signing off until the next performance. Oh ja, totally absent-minded of me to miss Lucia di Lammermoor with DIANA DAMRAU!!! (and Breslik!!) I’m here during all 3 performances as well but they’re all sold out, so like many of you I’ll be watching the live broadcast this coming sunday evening. Last point: they’re advertising their prized boy Breslik + Damrau EVERYWHERE, and not a single promo-photo of Harteros in sight. tsk tsk tsk. Here she is, from radio recording, the entire Act 4 scene 1 for re-listening (note clarinet + horn starting!)