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Archive for the ‘2008-2009 Season’ Category

Here’s an archived review, from the Register Guard in February 2009–the first time Verdi’s Il trovatore had been presented in Eugene:

 

The intrepid Eugene Opera dared to go where most opera companies, except the largest, fear to tread. On Saturday evening, the Eugene company featured Giuseppe Verdi’s sprawling 1853 epic “Il Trovatore,” an opera with a clumsy plot and yet some of Verdi’s grandest music. Although Eugene Opera gave only a “semi-staged” production, this opera still demands four outstanding singers with big, dramatic voices capable of creamy lyricism as well as flexible coloratura. Much to the credit of Eugene Opera’s General Director, Mark Beudert, the company met most of the opera’s challenges, and although not without some hitches in the beginning, the production displayed verve, dramatic excitement, and in many cases, vocal beauty.

Concert versions of operas usually present singers in tuxes and gowns standing in front of an orchestra while singing their operatic roles with little drama and no scenery. The audience usually hears some glorious music, and the presenting company avoids the costs of costumes, sets, and directors. Eugene Opera, however, set its sights higher. As usual, the singers wore formal concert attire, but the emotional tone of many scenes was set with expressive lighting by Michael Peterson, and the singers interacted with each other in ways that resembled a full operatic production. The intertwined stories of the gypsy Azucena’s lust for revenge and of the love triangle of Count di Luna, Manrico, and the aristocratic Leonora became, especially by the second portion of the evening, a forceful drama with lustrous singing and convincing acting.

Verdi originally intended Azucena to be the center of this opera, and, as if on cue, the most notable presence of the evening was the mezzo soprano, Jeniece Goldbourne, in this daunting role. Her plum-rich mezzo voice and her acting skills made her a riveting presence each time she appeared on stage. Despite a voice full of heavy vibrato and large register breaks, she sang with dramatic force and, at times, exquisite beauty.

As the opera developed in Verdi’s hands, the role of Leonora became larger than first intended until it evolved into the opera’s most substantial vocal role. Blessed with a large, warm soprano, Kelly Cae Hogan encompassed the varied moods of Lenora with finely tuned emotional shadings and pianissimos. The highlight of the evening was Leonora’s grand scena, “D’amor sull’ali rosee,” a lengthy scene which demands lyrical singing and vocal agility, both of which Hogan accomplished beautifully.

The baritone Michael Mayes as the villainous Count di Luna began the evening with spotty pitch and a thin tone, but gradually built to a warmer sound and, at times, luscious pianissimos. In his one romantic aria, “Il balen” which demands long, legato lines, Mayes succeeded only in part, but by the second act his vocal work was both warm and appropriately menacing.

The tenor, Eduardo Villa, suffered under unique circumstances. Mark Beudert was scheduled to take the role of Manrico, but fell ill, and Villa was flown in to substitute. A veteran performer of this role, Villa was next in line to be stricken by a bug, and although he bravely soldiered on, his foray as Manrico was a difficult one. He still had some lovely moments, especially in the cavatina, “Ah, si ben mio.”

Kenneth Kellog’s resonant but light bass voice added color to Ferrando’s role, and the comprimario roles taken by Marieke Schuurs, Reggie Tonry, and Nicholas Larson were in capable hands.

It is good to see that the chorus has grown to a respectable size and that it is led by a chorus master, John Jantzi. The women’s chorus’s delicate singing in the convent scene was lovely, and the male chorus, despite some pitch problems, sang with hefty conviction.

The Eugene Opera was lucky to have Willie Anthony Waters as its conductor for this difficult opera. The orchestra played extremely well under him, and although coordination with the singers was sketchy in the first part of the opera, Waters maintained tight control of the production in the second portion of the evening.

If its two productions of this year indicate the quality we can expect from Eugene Opera, the last opera of the season, “Don Giovanni,” should be worth waiting for.

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