OPERA / The sum of its parts: Il trovatore, Opera North, Leeds

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The Independent Culture
If the first requisite for Il trovatore is four fine dramatic singers, Opera North scores about 70 per cent. If the second is a production that knows what kind of piece this is, the score is lower. Verdi's opera is a series of grand and discrete tableaux. Continuity between them is pointless and confusing, particularly when achieved by littering the stage with corpses, a harp, and an enlarged snapshot from the Luna family album showing two boys (although one had been stolen as a baby). But the handling of the ending was inspired and did something to redeem Inga Levant's fussy production.

Charles Edwards' designs, alternating a black drop and a dark angled enclosure, allowed shadow-play from side lighting and a marvellous revelation of Azucena, haloed in the flaming sunset, for 'Stride la vampa'. Otherwise the visual aspect hampered the action, filling the stage with distracting detail, and making it hard to tell who was who in the chorus. The production is rich only in cliche: blackness, public drinking and copulation, men armed with both swords and rifles.

Listening with eyes closed offered variable rewards. The orchestra, under the sure guidance of Paul Daniel, was invariably sensitive to the beauty and imagination of Verdi's instrumentation. The chorus, particularly the men, richly deserved the applause they received at the end. Among the minor roles, Clive Bayley made a powerfully demonic Ferrando, but his manhandling of Leonora is inconceivable given the Count's social and military rank.

Perhaps this was a desperate measure to prevent Katerina Kudriavchenko yet again clasping her throat and spreading her arms in a once- approved prima donna style. Her voice is rich with potential in the middle register, but spoiled by a squally top.

With a noble high baritone and outstanding verbal projection (if wooden phrasing), Ettore Kim made a good shot at presenting the Count as a drunkard - a concept which, in 'Il balen', was among Levant's least forgivable sins.

Edmund Barham as Manrico cuts an impressive figure and possesses the volume of a trumpet - if only his role were all like 'Di quella pira'. But the tenderness and vulnerability of the character were barely hinted at, even in the scenes with Azucena. And here, in a way, lies the greatest problem. In her control of vocal expression and the visionary quality of her acting, quite apart from the quality of her voice, Sally Burgess sets a standard with which the rest simply cannot compete.

To 14 Oct Grand Theatre, Leeds (0532 465906), then on tour