Culture Magazine

Opera Review: Burn This

By Superconductor @ppelkonen
Regina Opera roars back with Il Trovatore.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

Opera Review: Burn This

Manrico, the troubador,  Christopher Trapani (above) finds Leonora (Alexis Cregger, below) who has taken poison rather than marry the Count DiLuna. Photo by Stephen Pisano for Regina Opera.

When putting on Verdi's Il Trovatore, it is very difficult to get the balance right.  On Saturday afternoon at the first of four performances, Brooklyn's Regina Opera company struck the correct balance between dramatic energy and vocal heroics, in a performance that proves that young voices do indeed grow in the heart of Brooklyn. This was the final production of the current Regina season (their 48th) in a detailed staging by Linda Lehr that pleased traditionalists while sacrificing none of the opera's dramatic edge.
It's been a few years since Superconductor has written about Regina, the scrappy, community-oriented opera company that mounts (mostly Italian) operas  every year for a devoted and tradition-loving audience. They moved to Sunset Park a few years ago from their old Bensonhurst home at the Basilica of Regina Paris, to a large, old-fashioned auditorium in the school at Our Lady of Perpetual Help. For you non-Brooklynites, that's the massive, blocky double basilica church that sits atop the ridge in this part of the borough. Its bulwark easily visible from the Brooklyn Queens Expressway and the Staten Island Ferry.
Il Trovatore is known for two things: a set of absolutely killer Verdi tunes and a fiery libretto dealing with Game of Thrones-level coincidences and betrayals. The plot centers around two brothers (who don't know they're brothers) and the actions of the hero's stepmother Azucena, who, in the middle of attempting infanticide, accidentally kills her own baby and raises Manrico instead. Any performance demands a certain suspension of disbelief, and a great quartet of singers to tackle the four demanding leading roles.
As Manrico, Christopher Trapani sang with the correct combination of machismo and distress as he hurtled through the opera's apocalyptic plot. This is essentially a series of confrontations and duels, ending with the hero's imprisonment and (offstage) execution. As his "mother" Azucena, Lara Michole Tillotson brought a powerful upper range and a deep, thrilling chest voice to this mezzo role, a half-mad figure whose thirst for bloody vengeance drives the action forward.  Her "Stride la vampa" was chilling, especially when she dived down into that lower register where many mezzos fear to stretch their range.
Manrico's needs are evenly split between his relationship with Azucena and his love for Leonora, a noblewoman with a flair for dramatic (and poor) life decisions. Whether rescuing her from a convent, proposing marriage inside a besieged fortress or taking poison from a compartment hidden in an ornate ring, soprano Alexis Cregger made Leonora's life a thrilling experience. She showed a strong and supple instrument, pairing ably with the (offstage) Mr. Trapani in the famous "Miserere" scene and making her death scene moving where it is often silly.
However the breakout performance here was baritone Nathan Matticks as Count di Luna. Never has the creepy villain of this opera sounded so appealing as Mr. Matticks did during "Il balen," the great Act II aria in which he obsessed over Leonora. His final cry of the opera brought the curtain down in thundering fashion. He got the loudest shouts at the end of the performance, having walked the line between sober villainy and all out madness all the way to its end.
The supporting players, led by bass Adam Ciofarri were excellent, as was the orchestra and small chorus. In the pit (actually half the orchestra is in the small pit, Regina is planning an expansion campaign for next season) Gregory Ortega led a strong and traditional performance on the slow side. Attention to details in this low-budget production (like the metal blocks for the Anvil Chorus) made the illusion into operatic reality, all to good effect. Some fun fight staging made for exciting moments.
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