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"Il Trovatore" - Review by Jeffrey Leibham

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"Il Trovatore" is pure Verdi, in every sense. Each of the four acts is given a title (The Duel, The Gypsy, The Gypsy's Son and The Punishment) and the score features numerous glorious arias, several gorgeously sung duets and even two examples of complex and ornate compositions for a trio of voices. It is a strong example of Verdi attempting to break away from using standard forms but it does include a fair amount of choral arrangements, most famously "The Anvil Chorus" which opens Act Two.

Many have criticized the libretto by Salvadore Cammarano, who died before its completion so that additions have been supplied by Leone Emanuele Bardare, to be convoluted and even far-fetched. But with Verdi's driving score and the stellar cast that Lyric has assembled, under the direction of Roy Rallo who has crafted a magnificent revival closely following that of the great Sir David McVicar's original, this is a stunning and riveting Francisco Goya-inspired rendition of one of Verdi's greatest works.

The legendary Enrico Caruso once quipped that all that you need for a successful version of "Il Trovatore" is the four greatest singers in the world. Thankfully for those who are lucky enough to see this production, all four of these stars have huge voices that are commanding when heard individually and powerfully intoxicating when joined in tandem.

Russell Thomas, the acclaimed American tenor, shines in the role of Manrico, the eponymous hero who is recovering from wounds suffered in a recent battle during a civil war in Spain. Thomas has a beguiling stage presence and lends an authoritative stamp to his call to arms. His portrayal, and dazzling voice, are most ravishing and impassioned during his Act Three aria in which he professes his love for Leonora (soprano Tamara Wilson in an auspicious Lyric debut). Wilson is a refreshing new discovery and definitely a dramatic soprano to keep an eye on. Her Leonora is staggering to behold, cresting into glittering radiance during her back-to-back demanding arias in the final act.

Mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton is fiery and bold as Azucena, the mysterious gypsy woman who also happens to be the mother of Manrico. She displays great flare as a woman who holds many secrets and seeks vengeance for her own mother who was condemned and burned at the stake. Barton's Act Four duet with Thomas, in which the imprisoned mother and son dream of returning to their home in the mountains, is astonishing and harrowing. Rounding out this talented quartet is baritone Artur Rucinski as Count di Luna, who is also making his Lyric debut, as the rival of Manrico for the affection of the lovely Leonora.

Conductor Marco Armiliato returns to the podium at Lyric after last season's success to lead the orchestra in another Verdi masterwork. His pacing perfectly matches the way that Verdi intended his score to propel the horrific elements of the narrative while also maintaining the militaristic energy, fittingly embellished by the timpani and percussion.

Chris Maravich's lighting beautifully mimics that of Jennifer Tipton, who was the original lighting designer. The most significant design element is that of Charles Edwards, who has created some strikingly visual sets. The first act opens with an incredibly imposing stone wall which runs on a slight angle from the front of the stage to the back, with a severely pitched staircase that seems to almost climb halfway to the stars. This wall is placed on a revolving turntable, so each scene takes place on either side of it with slight additions added to suggest the ramparts of a palace, a convent, the Count's camp, a fortress and finally a prison cell. This towering barrier is as colossal as this entire, hugely satisfying production.

Remaining performances for “Il Trovatore” are November 30th, December 3rd, 6th and 9th. Estimated running time is 2 hours and 40 minutes, including one 25-minute intermission.

“Il Trovatore” is presented at the Lyric Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago. Best parking option: The Poetry Garage, 201 West Madison, $12 in advance at www.thepoetrygarage.com. Valet parking is also available - $30. Tickets range from $39-$269. FYI (312) 827-5600 or www.lyricopera.org/Trovatore.