An Armoury of Visual Aids and One Invisible Lady

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This year's open-air opera season kicks off with an all-Italian fixture, and an easy win for Puccini


Il Trovatore Opera Holland Park LONDON

La Fanciulla del West Grange Park Opera HAMPSHIRE

Lampooned by the Marx Brothers and famously difficult to cast, Il Trovatore was always going to be a risky season opener for Opera Holland Park. Cursed with a lurid back-story of burning gypsies and abducted babies, and hampered by a love-triangle that Verdi saw as a hackneyed distraction from the central tragedy, the opera strains under the weight of its themes: maternal love, fraternal love, freedom, duty, superstition. What Il Trovatore needs on stage is clarity and pathos. What it gets in director-designer John Lloyd Davies's unsteady production is obfuscation and bathos, 19th- century gypsies, 20th-century soldiers, a split-screen postmodern set, and a little rag doll.

The doll is the first of several crude visual aids to be used in retelling the horrible history of the di Luna dynasty. Unfortunately, Lloyd Davies has paid so much attention to illustrating what has already happened in the plot, that what is happening in the here and now is altogether less clear. As the Conte di Luna, Stephen Gadd sings with cold, determined glamour while projecting the personality of a man who colour-codes his sock- drawer. His passion for Leonora (Katarina Jovanovic) is notably tepid, as is that of Rafael Rojas's coarse, swaggering Manrico. Plain and sturdy, with ear-battering vibrato above the stave, poor Jovanovic is comprehensively stitched up with a woefully unflattering costume and movement direction that turns an already inelegant account of "Tacea la notte placida" into a comedy routine.

Amid the horrors of roses clenched between teeth, tarot cards thrown to the floor, cantilevered cleavages, brandished pistols, narrowed eyes, squalling top notes and traffic-cop gestures, the big set-pieces for the choruses of nuns and gypsies and soldiers are characterfully sung. Rojas's "Di quella pira" packs a heavy punch, and Stephanie Corley makes a pert company debut as Ines. …