By Iride Aparicio

Azucena ( DARHL FREEDMAN)             Photo Credit: David Allen

SILICON VALLEY -- Sublime in its instrumental sound, magnificent in its voices and with a tumultuous plot of raw passions, war, a baby stolen at birth, mistaken identities, injustice, hatred, a great love and a Gypsy's curse, the opera "IL TROVATORE" (1853) written by GIUSEPPE VERDI (1813-1901) continues alluring the audience.

VERDI based his opera on the play El Trovador," (The name given to the Provenzal poets/performers who composed their own poems and songs in Spain during the middle Ages) a Romantic successful drama written by Hispanic Dramatist ANTONIO GARCIA GUTIERREZ, (1813-1884) ttracted by its intricate plot and wanted, this time,to express musically, the "essence" of the drama. By being able to do that, however, he needed to brake the "Operas' "pattern". 

During VERDI's time, all the operas' scores needed to adhere to a musical 'Pattern'. The 'pattern' required that an opera start with a musical Overture (from the Latin word meaning opening) and the first act with a choir, that needed to be followed by an aria and  continue the music in the pre-established placement of duets, trios, recitatives, cavaletas, etc. until its end. The Librettists, (who needed to be poets, because, like the music, all the librettos  had to be  written in strophes in a  pre- determined poetic form to fit the established  'music pattern'  so, when writing their  poems, ( lyrics) thr librettists knew exactly if the lytiv would be sung as a solo aria, as a trio, or as a chorus.

Because of these limitations, in 1851, when VERDI wrote to his librettist SALVADOR CAMMARANO (who died before the libretto was completed and had to be completed by LEONE EMMANUELE BARDARE who accepted to remain anonymous) about the libretto for IL TROVATORE, he requested from him to write a 'different Libretto' which, instead of following the established 'music Pattern' followed, the action of the drama. The reason why the music in IL TROVATORE is so powerful, is because, it was composed to describe the actions in sound. One example is the aria (Act III) in which Azucena's describes 'La folla indomita' (the fire) to the gypsies in a camp bathed in orange light, and the orchestra instead of playing the music that she is singing is playing in the strings (in the background) a series of ascending and descending high notes presto' (very fast)  making us experience, in sound, the laping flames of the fire.  

ferrando AND SOLDIERS.jpg
Center Ferrando (NATHAN STARK) and soldiers

In its first act, which takes place in Aragon, Spain, which at the time is undergoing a bloody civil war, IL TROVATORE follows the  Operas' pattern when after a lively Overture interpreted energetically the orchestra under  Conductor JOSEPH MARCHESO. When the curtain raises we found ourself in the gardens of the Palace of Aliaferia, we hear a chorus of a  group of soldiers and then an aria sang by  Ferrando ( STARK)  the Captain of the guard, telling the soldiers,  in a clear Italian and in a dark sonorous timbre of voice the twenty years ago story of a gypsy (Called "a 'Roma woman' in the English Supertitles, because "Gypsy" is now considered a derogatory term) who entered the palace of the Count di Luna and stood by one of his two sons crib. When the child started getting sick, the gypsy was accused of "Bewitching" the child and was burned alive on the stake as her young daughter  Azucena, watched, and heard her cries for revenge. After that, young Azucena, entered the palace took the duke's other baby from his crib and, they presumed, she tossed him in the flames because he was nover found.

When the soldiers leave, we meet Leonora (KERRIANN OTAÑO) who is looking for the man he crowned as a winner of a duel and fell in love with. Apparently he comes to serenade her but he has not come. In the darkness of the night, we hear Manrico's voice ( MACKENZIE GOTCHER) singing in the background and see the Count di Luna (SeungHyeon BAEK) following Leonora. Who confused when he hears Manrico's voice, walks to the Count thinking that he is Il trovatore, and declares her love to him. A Sword battle follows and Manrico is wounded.

On the floor EUGENE BRANCOVEANU)  as the Count di Luna, Standing Manrico (GOTCHER) with Leonora  (OTAÑO) trying to stop the killing.

The opera, tells the story of these tow men, in love with the same woman fighting to get her love, and in the background a gypsy, still trying to avenge her mother's burning at the stake.

 As an opera, IL TROVATORE is peculiar because if we analyze the libretto, we become aware that the protagonist (the character in a drama who moves the action) is not Manrico, but Azucena, the gypsy. (For this Review I will call the gypsies 'gypsies' as they are called in the libretto) And Azucena (FREEDMAN)  as a leading singer, a newcomers to VERDI's gallery of feminine portraits, because her part is a leading role par excellence. Her voice's range was written for a 'Contralto'(OTAÑO is a soprano) but we ought to remember that there were no 'contraltos" in  VERDI's time, so VERDI incluided very high notes in Azucena's arias, which fit the voice range of the  'mezzo-soprano' (as the contraltos who sing higher tones were called at the time). And dramatically speaking, in this highly dramatic drama, Azucena has also to play the role which requires the most dramatic acting. Here we need to add that on opening night, FREEDMAN mastered the role, in both her singing and acting.

Under the direction of stage Director BRAD DALTON, in this version of  IL TROVATORE every role was well performed. The principal characters,  MACKENZIE GOTCHER, as Manrico, KERRIANN OTAÑO as Leonora, EUGENE BRANCOVEANU, as Count Di Luna and DARYL FREEDMAN, as Azucena, had powerful voices and each onr interpreted his/her role with conviction. The performance was powerful. For its quality,we also need to mention the performances of Bass-Baritone NATHAN STARK as Ferrando and the Mezzo-Soprano voice of STEPHANIE SANCHEZ as Inez.


We also need to mention that in its simplicity, STEVEN KEMP's set: a bare set with a wall with an opening in the background and a flat stairwell, fit every scene perfectly, when changed the the lighting of MICHAEL PALUMBA, represent days, nights, and even a sunny-bathed orange mountain where the gypsies sing, marking the beats of the 2/4 time aria with their anvils.

With IL TROVATORE, new General Director of Opera San Josém KHORI DASTOOR begins her tenure with a superb production.

IL TROVATORE will be presented at the California Theatre, 345 First St. San Jose, on Sunday, February 16, at 8pm. Thursday February 20 at 3 pm, Sunday February 23, at 8pm. Friday February 28, at 3pm and Sunday March 1st, at 3pm. for information or to order tickets, go online to www.operasj.org, call 408-437-4450 or go to the Opera San Jose Box office, 2149 Paragon Drive, San Jose.