Preview: Il Trovatore, Royal Opera House, London

A soprano's thoughts from the front line
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The Independent Culture

There are many ways to come unstuck with Verdi's convoluted melodrama of love, revenge and mistaken identity - English National Opera's hastily buried attempt being the most recent. So it's good to see Elijah Moshinsky's businesslike Il trovatore - which resists the temptation to send up its raw 19th-century emotions and eschews postmodern irony - coming back on stream with the Royal Opera.

Talking to the American soprano Catherine Naglestad, who plays Leonora, the doomed damsel trapped at the centre of events, I get a vivid report from the front line: at this point in the rehearsals, a lot is still undecided. "We're having a big debate about whether Leonora hears Manrico's voice from the tower for real, or whether it's just a hallucination," she tells me.

"I like the idea of his voice being in her head, of doing a little mad scene. I want to play her as totally lost and abandoned - is she brave, or truly in love, or is she just obsessed?"

They're also debating the Act I trio in which she is fought over by her two suitors. "We've been having huge discussions about how much it's about love, and how much about possession. I mostly stayed out of it, and they came down on the side of possession. In my view, she's the only one acting purely out of love - she doesn't have another agenda of revenge or possessiveness, it's just, 'This is the man I love', her first teenage crush."

Meanwhile, the fights are being enthusiastically developed, with the nuns trying to avoid getting their eyes poked out. Struggling with a skirt "the size of Texas", Naglestad herself is glad that her principal opponent, Count di Luna, is being sung by her friend Anthony Michaels-Moore. "I can trust his physicality. With some colleagues, you're in danger of getting hurt when they throw you across the stage - they're so into their parts. Anthony is always in control, though he can look very violent!"

In repertory, 30 January to 23 February ( www.royaloperahouse.org; 020-7304 4000)

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