Stage Director
Acclaim
Seattle Opera's 'Il Trovatore': Verdi's greatest hits, if not his greatest story
<p class="caption">"Il Trovatore" director Jose Mar&iacute;a Condemni works with soprano Lisa Daltirus, who has the role of Leonora, during a staging rehearsal for the opera.</p>
<p class="caption">"Il Trovatore" director Jose Mar&iacute;a Condemni works with soprano Lisa Daltirus, who has the role of Leonora, during a staging rehearsal for the opera.</p>
Bill Mohn
You're not there for the plot.

It's Verdi's music that irresistibly draws opera lovers to "Il Trovatore" ("The Troubadour"), which boasts one hit tune after another. It has one of the world's most instantly recognizable choruses, the "Anvil Chorus"; a pair of soprano arias so gorgeous that they're regularly used as recital encores; a lyrical baritone solo ("Il balen"), and one of the challenges of the tenor world, "Di quella pira" with its final high C. (That C wasn't penned by Verdi, but has been interpolated by so many tenors that audiences at Milan's La Scala have booed its omission.)

The music is immediately accessible. Making the convoluted drama accessible is the job of stage director José María Condemi, the man who brought Seattle Opera audiences the highly successful 2007 "La Bohème." After all, "Il Trovatore" is the opera the Marx Brothers chose to spoof in the finale of their hilarious 1935 comedy, "A Night at the Opera."

"I enjoy the challenge," says Condemi of his quest to bring the "Trovatore" story to the performers and their listeners.

"I just take it seriously, even if the story doesn't always make sense. But does it make any less sense than 'Phantom of the Opera,' where some obsessed person is living in an underground lake beneath an opera house? At some point you just have to accept and believe. Our job is not to judge the story; our job is to take it seriously and make the obsession, the desire for revenge, real for the audience."

Condemi's own background helps him in this task: he grew up in Argentina, but most of his family comes from Italy, and he says he was "brought up with the idea of holding grudges." Sixty years after the fact, his grandmother was still angry with his mother's friend because the friend influenced his mother to take a teaching job that took her away from the home three days a week. And in Condemi's Argentinean hometown, the myth persisted that the gypsies might curse the uncooperative, or even kidnap their children.

"This was presented as fact," Condemi says, shaking his head.

"So you can see it's easy for me to understand the incredible power of superstition. And that is absolutely crucial in 'Il Trovatore.' So is the kind of blind faith that we still see today, when a well-educated person decides to try to blow up a plane."

The stage director's job is a little more exciting when there are two simultaneous casts that alternate in the leading roles. Different voices and different actors mean many more possibilities for interpretation. Condemi welcomes this, as the alternating cast members "show me another way of doing something. Fortunately, in these two casts we have very distinctive personalities and voices who find new ways to relate to each other."

Among the most distinctive: the tenor Antonello Palombi, who undertakes the role of Manrico (the troubadour of the opera's title) for the first time in Seattle.

"This is a role you have to sing with your whole heart," Palombi said before his arrival in Seattle. "You have to show very strongly the thoughts and feelings of this character. The audience must believe him, absolutely."

According to Condemi, that isn't going to be a problem for this tenor.

"Last night, in rehearsal, he sang 'Di quella pira,' absolutely full voice, and at the end we were all just like this," Condemi says, miming the classic jaw drop. "What a voice!"

Melinda Bargreen, Seattle Times
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