As Mostly Opera nicely put it: "So we are supposed to believe that the soprano kills herself to avoid sleeping with this guy? Right..."
I was awaiting a moment when Mr. Hvorostovsky appeared in Europe in a live, un-amplified concert, or in an opera where the baritone role is not too small and where I didn't have to be disgusted by some director's "retelling" of the story. I nearly gasped when I saw that he would appear in London, as il Conte di Luna, with Sondra Radvanovsky and Roberto Alagna, in the somewhat clumsy but traditionalistic and appealing Moshinsky's production.
It was my first visit of London, and of a big, famous opera house, too. I arrived in Covent Garden well before time, as I had intended to walk, but the rain was so heavy that I decided to take a cab. From the phonetic standpoint, the driver was a very nice Cockney guy, the doormen and ushers at ROH spoke "received RP" - the most understandable accent for foreigners - and most of the audience members and cashiers were native RP speakers (the cashier I spoke to when I was picking up the ticket had an especially arrogant tone in his language).
When I came in, I decided to dissolve my boundless excitement in a glass of wine and sit at a table there. If you, like me, have problems with low blood pressure, or any other reason why you prefer to sit down, I must recommend you to arrive *at least* half an hour before the performance. The room got crowded quickly, so that there was nowhere to sit, and the auditorium opens just ten minutes before the performance.
I invited a lovely elderly English couple to sit at my table, we talked mostly about opera. They had seen Rusalka in English, and they had visited Prague. They said that they liked the city, but in such situation, I always fear the people are just being polite... Well, come and see for yourself :-). We also talked about the dress code. We couldn't agree more that people should dress nicely, to show to the surroundings *and* to themselves that this is a special occasion. They told me that some twenty years ago, long gowns and tailcoats were common. I confessed that I had been afraid of being underdressed, but that fright was soon gone, after having seen a guy there, a tad bit horizontally challenged, dressed in casual jeans, army green pullover and white sport shoes. It spoils the impression a bit, when you see such a figure. While we're at the fashion policing, Mrs. Hvorostovsky, who was also there, chose the elegance of little black dress, Maestro Orbelian was wearing a dark suit.
Then the performance began. Mr.Moshinsky had been criticized for this production of his, that the sets take too much time to change, that it's all too static etc. That was apparently the reason why he chose to reduce the number of flats, which I found very unfortunate, especially in the third act. I was also looking forward to the first act fight between Di Luna and Manrico. Yes, Mr.Alagna is a half-pint, but quite athletic, I mean, I wouldn't force Johan Botha to it, but I think Alagna could have pulled it off... However, Moshinsky decided to go for the "Leonora-prevents-the-fight-until-the-curtain-falls" option. There was some fighting in the convent, but there they forced Di Luna to lay on the ground, in the fashion of American cops arresting a suspect. I was sitting in the second row, and feeling the urge to bounce from Maestro Rizzi's head and help Dima out. Anyway, forcing him down was a bit unnecessary. The great news was that Moshinsky crossed out the gayish ballet-fight in the third act, which 1. was weird and 2. didn't match the overall concept of the production. Instead, the chorus members were singing, sitting on chairs at the edge of the stage, with several stunt-men (?) showing-off their impressive fencing abilities behind them. The Di quella pira reminded me of Lt. Columbo; Manrico went away and returned a couple of times, like the repeated line "Oh, there's just one other thing..." The last change to the original production was, Di Luna did not shoot Manrico to death, but stabbed him in an outburst of anger, having realized that Leonora killed herself because of him, and Manrico died in his arms. I very much like the idea of the Count killing his brother with his own hand, and this worked just perfectly.
As for the singing: Ms.Walewska as Azucena was very good, if somewhat insipid in comparison to the starry cast. Ms.Radvanovsky has a big voice, and frankly, I can't understand the people who keep criticizing her for some reason. She appears to be the best Verdian soprano around these days, and I like her approach to her roles, too. Mr. Alagna was a very pleasant surprise. To be honest, I was expecting a disaster, having seen him as Radames on the DVD, but he pulled off Manrico very well. Last, but not least: Dmitri Hvorostovsky. People say that he's got a small voice - to me he sounded louder than Alagna. People say that he's not a "true" Verdi barytone - that was perhaps true ten years ago. The singing, the acting, the feeling, the man. I am happy and honoured that I have seen one of history's greatest baritones at his best.
So Il Trovatore ended. I was almost shocked by how short the applause was - only one curtain-call?? I quickly went to the stage exit, hoping to meet Mr. Hvorostovsky, but apparently, he had gone earlier, or through another exit, if that is possible. However, I met Maestro Rizzi, and I got an autograph from Mr.Alagna. Of course, the only thing I had forgotten was a pen, but I met a lovely Polish woman there. She was standing a bit aside, so she was an easy victim of my attempts of conversation. Her English was not too good, so I asked her where she was from, and she said, Poland. I said "Já jsem z Čech" (I'm from Bohemia), and she said "Tak to možem po našom" (So we can speak our languages). I have a feeling that the Poles understand Czech better than the Czechs understand Polish. She lent me the pen and showed me the members of Roberto Alagna's family. She was there alone, going back to Poland in the morning. As we were leaving, she said she would take a walk through London by night, I hope she got to the airport safely.
Well, and that's it. The evening of wonders was ended. One thing is for sure, that I will remember it for the rest of my life.