Hong Kong: ‘Il Trovatore’ Gets Two Thumbs Up from a Skeptical Opera Goer

Performance

“Il Trovatore” is an opera in 4 acts by Giuseppe Verdi (1813 – 1901). Set in 15th century Spain, it has all the dramatic and melodramatic elements of a typical Italian opera. Can it hold the attention of a self-admitted operaphobe?

An opera in 4 acts by Giuseppi Verdi, “Il Trovatore” is staged at the Hong Kong City Hall. It is a collaboration between the Hong Kong Virtuosi, the Chorus of the Opera Society of Hong Kong, and the Academy Dancers of the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts. It is a Leisure and Cultural Services Department presentation.

I’m not a big fan of opera – neither Chinese nor European – so I was surprised that I enjoyed “Il Trovatore” at the Hong Kong City Hall as much as I did.

The only reason I went is because one of my best buddies, Andrew Tang, invited me to go with him. The only reason Andrew went is because one of his best buddies was in the cast and arranged for him to purchase 2 tickets at a steep discount.

“I’ll pay for the tickets if you pay for dinner,” Andrew proposed.

Typical Italian Opera

“Il Trovatore” is an opera in 4 acts by Giuseppe Verdi (1813 – 1901). Set in 15th century Spain, it has all the dramatic and melodramatic elements of a typical Italian opera – jealousy, betrayal, murder, pathos.

The first act, labeled “The Duel”, establishes the opera’s dramatic tension: There is a rivalry between the hero, Manrico, played by Stephen Mark Brown, and his enemy, the Count de Luna, played by Luis Chapa, both of whom fancy Leonora, who is played by the highly talented Marina Costa Jackson.

Called “The Gypsy”, the 2nd act introduces Azucena, Manrico’s mother, who is played by Robynne Redmon, whose voice soars during her dramatic arias.

She movingly recounts witnessing her own mother’s burning at the stake and how she inexplicably threw her own son into the roaring flames that had consumed her mother.

The Plot Thickens

The love between mother and son is explored in the 3rd act, and the plot thickens as Azucena learns that she is to suffer the same fate as her woe-begotten mother.

Manrico and Azucena are imprisoned in the 4th act and fantasize about returning to the mountains and living as they once did. Leonora, meanwhile, commits suicide in a vain attempt to rescue Manrico from the guillotine.

An opera should be about the music, and this production had its soaring arias, dramatic duets, and moving recitatives.

But an opera should also have at least one “production number”, if you will, and in “Il Trovatore”, it was the “Anvil Chorus” in the 3rd act.

My hat’s off to the singers, the dancers, the choreographer, the costume designer, and the set designer. This scene was pure magic.

So much was going on that I couldn’t take it all in. I hope that someone captured it on video and posts it on YouTube so that I can enjoy it over and over and over again.

Rewind 30 Years

The last time I suffered through a European opera in Hong Kong was more than 3 decades ago. Some international super stars were flown in, and the supporting cast and orchestra – such as in this production – were mostly local singers and musicians.

I remember that all of us were tempted to go out for hamburgers at the intermission. We did NOT enjoy it every bit as much as we had been looking forward to it in the runup to the big night.

In the intervening years, I have lived in different places and attended Western operas in New York City, San Francisco, and Macau and Chinese operas in Hong Kong.

With the exception of “Carmen”, which, perhaps, reveals what low-brow operatic tastes I have, I have only enjoyed one opera as much as I enjoyed this one: an outdoor production of an opera at a fort in Macau, and the crumbling venue had a lot to do with it.

Dramatic Moment

It was pure  magic when a wind storm kicked in during a dramatic moment in the 4th act, sending  brown dust eddying and swirling around and between the performers and the audience.

It almost seemed like divine intervention!

The production of “Il Trovatore” at the Hong Kong City Hall (which is a performance venue and not the seat of government) was not opera as spectacle, as you would expect at the great opera houses of the United States or Europe.

I read once that the stage at the Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center in New York City is as large as a football field, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the entire Concert Hall of Hong Kong City Hall – including the seats – could be fit unto that stage.

So the sets were understandably far less impressive and the supporting cast and musicians far less numerous. However, there is something to be said for a smaller production in a more intimate venue such as this one.

To start with, I was only 8 rows from the stage so I could fully appreciate the acting abilities of the cast.

Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts

Reading the programme after the performance, I discovered that the dancers were from the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts

With the exception of the lead singers, many of the other members of the cast as well as Lio Kuokman, the Conductor, got their early training at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts.

Interesting … The academy was established in 1984, which would have been AFTER that performance I suffered through in the early 1980s.

I’ve heard so many good things about APA. It seems to have played a supporting – if not a starring – role  in raising the artistic, creative, and technical standards of the performing arts in Hong Kong.

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