Michael Hofstetter / Ludwigsburger Schlossfestpiele Orchestra

Verdi: Il Trovatore

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Conductor Michael Hofstetter does a beautiful job bringing out the nuances from the Orchestra of Ludwigsburg Schlossfestspiele in Il Trovatore. This is evident from the thunderous roll of the timpani at the beginning of the opera, and the careful phrasing throughout the album. Every dynamic is observed, and the result is the high drama crucial to Verdi. The famous "Anvil Chorus" is another example of the orchestra's power to rouse the listener, as are the dark brass chords in the "Finale ultimo." The chorus, under the direction of Jan Hoffman, deserves equal praise. Expressive, powerful, and synchronized, it performs some of the most memorable parts of the opera; the nuns' chorus is evidence of the style and excellent vocal technique of the singers. The cast of leads is well-matched in terms of timbre, and all of them are strong musicians, not just good voices. Josef Wagner's Ferrando is a clean bass, a joy to hear even though his part is not very large. Herbert Lippert's Manrico is indeed a convincing troubadour; whether singing to Leonora or to his mother, his artistry is always right on target for his character. Another voice that one longs to hear more of is that of Il Conte di Luna, played by Miljenko Turk. Turk's Italian diction is marvelous (as can be heard in his duet with Leonora "Qual voce!" toward the end of the opera). Yvonne Naef performs Azucena, a role that is well suited to her voice. She has the color and expressivity needed to convey her pain and terror. At times, Naef's vibrato can sound a bit off, and a couple of high notes are wobbly (which one could argue is not unusual when a mezzo-soprano has to sing in a high register). Then comes the question of the role of Leonora, sung by the wonderfully talented Simone Kermes. Hers is a voice heartbreakingly sweet and tender (à la Kathleen Battle), with excellent control and flexibility in her coloratura, a joy to hear. However, it is not a typically Verdian voice; she tends to sing the arias as delicate and pleading, rather than darkly throbbing and passionate. Leonora requires heft, and Kermes' voice, though stunning, sounds more suited to early music. Finally, the recording quality has some issues. It is overall extremely clear, putting the listener right in the performance, but suffers from balance issues that make the singers' parts too soft. Despite some flaws, this recording is so honest and sensitive that the listener comes away with the feeling of connection to the performance.

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