Arturo Toscanini, asked what was required to cast Il Trovatore, is said to have replied: ‘Only the four best singers in the world’.
Vienna did not quite achieve that elite distinction in its first new Trovatore of the 21st century, but it came close, breathtakingly close.
It is hard to imagine there is a more moving Leonora anywhere at the moment than Anna Netrebko, visually eye-catching and vocally incomparable. She commands the stage with ease and uses her pianissimo to even greater effect than her formidable great fortes.
Roberto Alagna gave his all as Manrico, sometimes more than his all, so determined was he to surmount the massed sound of two armies and an orchestra. In tender moments, notably in duet with his doomed mother Azucena, he was compassion itself.
Luciana D’Intino’s Azucena walked the edge of madness across four acts while simultaneously giving the impression of being the only sane person on stage, secure in her vocal serenity.
Ludovic Tezier was beyond evil as the Conte di Luna, expressing his awareness of the wrong he was doing with several shades of musical subtlety.
Daniele Abbado directed with taste and discretion, setting the opera in the Spanish Civil War; Marco Armiliano conducted with an Abbado-like cohesion; and the chorus and Vienna Philharmonic orchestra were, as so often, in a class all their own.
The bonus? Jongmin Park, was a flawless Ferrando, rolling out the complicated backstory without one superfluous gesture. A Vienna ensemble member, aged 30, he may well be the next great bass.
When opera is this intense, you wonder why it can’t always be like this.
Netrebko with conductor Armiliato. Photo (c) Michael Poehn