Il Trovatore is sensational

So just why would anyone want to see Verdi's "Il Trovatore," an excessively Byzantine and dark opera in which revenge carries the day as the parents' sins are devastatingly visited upon their children?

Because Seattle Opera's second installment in its 2009-10 Verdi-homage season is equally the story of the sort of passion many of us hope for--that of lovers willing to die for their love. Plus the music is a stunning collection of gorgeous tunes, like the Anvil Chorus, recognizable even by most opera rookies.

Set in 15th-century Spain, the convoluted plot ignites with the di Luna family burning a gypsy as a witch. Azucena, the gypsy's daughter, abducts the youngest di Luna boy to throw on the flames in revenge. After accidentally tossing her own infant son into the fire, she raises the kidnapped child as her own. He grows up to become Manrico the Troubadour, a leader in the revolutionary army, and falls in love with Leonora, lady-in-waiting to the Queen of Spain. Manrico's brother is now Count di Luna, commander of the opposing forces and also enamored of Leonora. At one point, the Count plots to shanghai Leonora as she takes her vows to become a nun when she thinks the man she loves, Manrico, is dead. Manrico interrupts the abduction and carries Leonora off himself. And that's just a taste of the story's intricacies.

For the most part, director José María Condemi and his cast handled the complex plot with grace. On opening night last Saturday, Lisa Daltirus as Leonora was clearly the crowd favorite with her impassioned elegance and glimmering top notes of incandescent beauty. Her "D'amor sull'alli rosee," in which she sings of her love for Manrico outside his prison cell, was breathtaking.

While I loved tenor Antonello Palombi's emotional finesse as Canio in Seattle Opera's 2008 rendition of Leoncavello's "Pagliacci," he made a less-than-plausible revolutionary hero onstage in the current production. Still, despite his physical awkwardness, much of Manrico's insurgent fervor and decisiveness rang in his always-monumental voice. Unfortunately, his chemistry with Leonora was also erratic, despite lovely moments like their reverentially joyful wedding duet.

Baritone Gordon Hawkins just gets better and better. His tortured Count di Luna, a role he also performed here in 1997, is no clichéd villain. Conveying a frighteningly inexorable power and emotional nuance, he was far more imposing vocally, physically and emotionally in this production than Palombi as the hero.

Malgorzata Walewska spurned the stock lunatic witch, injecting her Azucena with a fearful, compassionate and potent humanity.

The chorus is critical in setting the mood in "Il Trovatore" and the Seattle Opera Chorus, as rehearsed by Beth Kirchhoff, delivered. Conductor Yves Abel and his orchestra did a fine job of supporting cast and chorus.

Set designer Allen Moyer's towering, tilted walls on the verge of collapse mirror the physical and sociological effects of war. Thomas Hase's broad palette of lighting color, such as bilious green for the Count's festering jealousy, boldly accented emotion and mood.

Although some lengthy scene changes together with the dramatic problem of so much action happening offstage did sap some of the opera's power, Seattle Opera's "Il Trovatore" is still an emotionally gripping work and a fitting companion to the season opener, "La Traviata."

Seattle Opera's "Il Trovatore" plays at Marion Oliver McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St., through Saturday, Jan. 30. Prices starting at $25. Tickets/information: 389-7676,

Freelance writer Maggie Larrick lives in the Seattle area and is the former editor of the News.[[In-content Ad]]