Verdi’s Il Trovatore (now playing at Seattle Opera) is often criticized for being bleak and unimaginably convoluted. Sure, it’s got great music, but the good guys meet death (poison, beheading), the bad guy wins, and the “I told you so” character, Azucena Rodham Clinton, claims to be avenged.
No direct parallels to present day politics, of course, but it’s not implausible that we should see, in a decade or two, a grand piece of theater or film about the Orange Shitgibbon in the White House and his turtle-faced enablers in Congress. It would be an unremitting tragedy (Faustian bargains, Othello-like murders, Trovatore-like immolations) that ends with the evil Orange con man impaled on pikes along with his entourage of sycophants. I’d call it Il Impostore,
Okay, enough fantasy; here’s the true tale.
Back to 2005, a young soprano from Centralia, Wash., who’d gone from her local high school and community college (she’d originally thought of a career in medicine) to the voice program at Pacific Lutheran and then to the Master’s in Music from USC, turned up in Seattle and blew away the judges at the regional Metropolitan Opera National Council auditions. (A tenor from Seattle, Lawrence Brownlee, had done the same thing half a decade earlier.) Two years later Meade won the national competition singing “Casta Diva” from Norma, and was off to a meteoric international career. She has sung Leonora (the love interest at the heart of Il Trovatore’s convoluted plot) in opera houses around the world, but never, until now, has Meade sung on an opera stage in Seattle. (There’s a terrific documentary about the Met competition that she won. Story here.)
Well, it’s never too late to fix big mistakes like ignoring the world-famous artist who grew up in your own back yard. Here’s another one: now that Seattle Opera has its own house, how much longer will the company run two casts for the same show? With General Director Aidan Lang moving to Wales, that’s a politically charged project for his successor.
Anyway, Meade was in the second cast as Leonora. How’d that happen? Maybe she doesn’t like Saturday nights?
At any rate, she became part of a formidable quartet of singers. Opera repertory (in Seattle at least) is like dropping in for drink at a bar filled with old friends; it matters not who slays whom, who loves whom, who rises in triumph or dies in agony so long as the orchestra plays and the audience cheers.
They’re all so good, they could coast right through this production: instead, they give it everything they’ve got. In a sense, they’re like major-league infielders, whipping the ball around for a double play: there’s immense respect for a reliable shortstop, for a first baseman you can count on, Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance.
Wagner’s Rheingold was composed the same year, 1853, as Trovatore, but If you haven’t sipped Seattle Opera’s Ring-flavored Kool Aid there’s more vitality to Verdi. The plot of Trovatore , after all, is no nuttier or more gruesome (immolated infant, vengeful gypsy) than the Ring’s (dwarfs, giants magic dragons). What matters is the music, which isn’t “about” anything except itself. The audience doesn’t have to know stagecraft to appreciate the spectacle of the Anvil Chorus, or mull Manrico’s motivation to understand the intensity of Di Quella Pirra. (and the opera’s show-stopping high C) as he dumps Leonora at the altar and gallops off to save his mother. It’s not unlike the thrill you get watching Russell Wilson throw a game-winning, fourth-quarter TD to Tyler Lockett or Doug Baldwin.
It sometimes feels like Verdi wrote his most familiar tunes for choruses of oppressed (Gypsies, Hebrew slaves) but no, there’s Aida’s O Patria Mia, and, here, Leonora’s Amor sull’ali rosee to remind us that his best music is the intimate plaint. And Meade delivers, in spades.
Trovatore’s set is a single, hand-me-down, ship-me-over, science-experiment-gone-wrong set left over from the 1994 production of Norma that takes forever to rig between scenes but actually highlights the team-spirit, “Let’s Put on a Show!” staging: it’s too cramped for the 50-member chorus but feels just right for the duets and trios, where our friends take their turns at bat, sending solid line drives into McCaw Hall’s upper deck.
Angela Meade photo by Philip Newton.