This release can be of interest for 2 reasons: it is a Robert Wilson production and it is in French. The Wilson esthetics are familiar, you can get all the information you need just by taking a look at the cover photo or by checking the video above. I love Wilson’s productions for the wrong reasons: his radical regie is better than good old fashion (and universally maligned) stand-and-deliver: it is stand-freeze-and-deliver. The director attempts to reach the limits of postmodernist innovative chic, yet arrives instead at the most extreme version of the fusty past. It’s fine by me, no directorial distractions.
As for this being the French version, I can’t see it appealing to anyone who is not fluent in French. I tried to watch this release without French subtitles on, and though I’m fluent I could not understand a word. Worse, the language the singers use sounds painfully ugly, though some of the principals are worse than others (the tenor is seriously hampered by the French). With the French subtitles on everything is intelligible and clear.
The French libretto has advantages over the Italian because it is brutally concise and clear. The Italian text changes the order of the words to keep the correct meter, but the result is that it is difficult to concentrate on the meaning even if you are fluent in Italian, and I’m long past the point of using anything but the original language subtitles. Right from the start, when Ferrando opens his narrative with a verse that needs to convey that “The good Count di Luna lived/ a happy father of 2 sons” (a lousy verse even when straightened out) but sings instead “Of 2 sons lived happy father/ the good Count di Luna”, my brain automatically switches to standby and I tune out of the plot, listening only to the pure music. When I struggle to tune back in, I get “Tacea la notte…” etc. “Was quiet the peaceful night/and beautiful in the clear sky/the moon her silver face/showed full and bright.” What? The peaceful night was quiet and beautiful...where? In the clear sky? And the moon...oh, it was the moon that was beautiful, not the peaceful night, the peaceful night was just quiet. So the moon...what? Oh, it showed her silvery face, and it did so full and bright. This is pure padding even without the headache of making sense of the word salad in the Italian version: Verdi need an x number of syllables in the right meter and Cammarano provided as lazily as possible. It’s impossible to concentrate and delve into the drama, so everyone thinks Trovatore can’t be taken seriously as a drama.
And so did I think too (how is that for bad syntax, Salvatore Cammarano?) until I discovered the French version from a 1912 cylinder recording available continuously since 1912 but remastered, cleaned and released in 2000 by Ward Marston on his label. Marston also made the extremely helpful choice of posting the French text on his website. Since I got it almost 20 years ago it has become the version I listen to most often, and not because of the quality of singing. The clarity of the superior French text hits you in the head immediately: what a shocking horrible story! A gypsy burned on the stake for hexing a baby and her daughter steals it and burns him in revenge? OMG, it was her own son she burnt? What is wrong with this woman? Hearing it from singers who actually took the story seriously in a language you can immediately relate to (if you speak French) makes a huge difference. A story about a baby burning gypsy is as shocking to a mid-19th-century audience as one about a greedy Jew seriously demanding a pound of human flesh was to an Elizabethan audience - immediate shock value!
I contemplated for years what it is about the French language that makes the French version so superior. Then I read more or less the same conclusions I reached (which I’ll spare you) posted on a French website reviewing this performance when it was staged in 2018, and realized it’s nonsense (as is everything else on that site) - it’s not the French language being more concise, more cerebral or more declamatory than Italian, nor its "fixed tonic accent" (which is a very controversial concept - most agree that French is the only language without a tonic accent ). It’s simply that this particular French text is clear and concise, whereas this particular Italian one is confusing, that's all. This has to do with higher literary standards in France than in Italy at the time, and actually at any time: name 10 French literary masterpieces. Now try to name 10 Italian ones...
The cast is what you can expect with today’s singers - has there been any Trovatore cast you can take seriously in the past 50 years? There is no point even reviewing their performance. Sure, they make lovely sounds (except the tenor), the orchestra and conductor are extremely precise, but the standards of singing have deteriorated so much that it’s depressing.
I hesitated to even post a review - the second time I watched this release the singers made me physically sick and I had to stop. However, the 3rd time something clicked, and though I still do not appreciate the cast I found myself so immersed in the drama that things made connections, I was thrilled and major moral and philosophical questions presented themselves, for example:
DID AZUCENA’S NAMELESS MOTHER REALLY HEX THE BABY OR WAS SHE FALSELY ACCUSED?
This is a very important question because the answer determines if a major injustice was inflicted on an innocent gypsy, warranting a revenge...or not. At any rate, once you are really able to delve in you find yourself feeling that Azucena is the most evil character in all of opera: stealing a baby to burn it live, then throwing her own son to the fire instead, and being an egotistic, passive-aggressive b-tch till the end when she could save Manrico just by revealing the truth, but no, she has to blurt it out only once it’s too late. These musings that I share with you are for the purpose of demonstrating that this drama can trigger a few thinking neurons in your brain GIVEN A DECENT TEXT. I’ll watch this release again and Wilson’s stage direction works for me, including the extended joke he made of the ballet, all 20 minutes of it.
The blu-ray is issued by Dynamic, but I don’t think they used their own technical team, maybe they don’t have their own team anymore: the video is of the highest quality, more than usual for Dynamic, and the sound is very good, particularly for the acoustically challenged Teatro Farnese.
- Format: NTSC
- Language: French, Italian, German, English, Japanese, Korean
- Subtitles: English, German, Italian, Japanese
- Region: All Regions
- Number of discs: 1
- Studio: Naxos Deutschland Musik & Video Vertriebs-GmbH / Poing
- DVD Release Date: 13 Sep 2019
- Run Time: 174 minutes
- Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
- ASIN: B07VGTYMKX
Amazon Bestsellers Rank:
23,451 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
- #16763 in Movies (Movies & TV)