[Posted this morning on The Volume. Not so much here for knowledgeable opera buffs -- this was meant more for general readers. But there are two links worth anyone's time: one takes you to the hysterical climax of A Night at the Opera, the other to Matthew Gurewitsch's sharp article on Il Trovatore in yesterday's New York Times.]
An opening night at the Metropolitan Opera is always buzzworthy, but there's a special anticipation in the air for tonight's maiden voyage of Verdi's rousing warhorse Il Trovatore ("The Troubadour"). This is one of Verdi's most popular and tuneful operas—you definitely know the "Anvil Chorus," and you've probably heard the high-flying tenor aria "Di Quella Pira." But what makes tonight special in an edgy way is the memory of the Met's last two Trovatore productions, both notorious flops. Factor in a plot so ludicrous that parody seems superfluous—which didn't prevent the Marx Brothers and countless others from goring it—and you can see why folks at the Met might avoid mentioning the opera's name, like theater companies insist on referring to a certain Shakespeare drama as "the Scottish play."
Still, there's ample cause to suspect that the old curse might be broken tonight. The very smart, able and creative Scottish director David McVicar has updated the action from 15th-century Spain to the country's War of Independence against Napoleon (1808–14), with a staging based on Goya's grim series "Desastres de la Guerra." (Check out this keenly reported feature by Matthew Gurewitsch in yesterday's New York Times for further details.)
And even if all else fails, Il Trovatore makes for a strong night of music when you've got the Met's firepower, beginning with conductor Gianandrea Noseda. Sondra Radvanovsky, the company's best Verdi soprano, is Leonora. The awesome Dolora Zajick plays the batty witch Ulrica; suave Siberian barihunk Dmitri Hvorostovsky is the Count di Luna. And starring as Manrico, the titular troubadour, is Argentine tenor Marcelo Álvarez, whose performance ought to throb with old-fashioned gusto and manly swagger if the version of "Di Quella Pira" on his conveniently timed Decca debut CD, The Verdi Tenor, is anything to judge by. Listen for yourself, then hit the Met's website to check on ticket availability.