“Show, don’t tell” is a mantra of dramatic writing. And it’s a mantra pretty much ignored by Gueseppi Verdi in his opera “Il Trovatore.”
In its early scenes, exposition nearly overwhelms, and even when it looks like there’s going to be action, it happens off stage. One-dimensional characters state their emotions and intentions as they wait for spotlight moments that they know will wow the crowd.
That “Il Trovatore” has proven so popular for more than 150 years (It’s No. 17, sandwiched between “Aida” and “Faust,” on OperaAmerica’s list of the most performed of all time) is testament that music can overcome these would-be drawbacks.
And to its credit, Indianapolis Opera, in its season opening production, embraced “Il Trovatore” for what it is rather than attempt to turn it into something it isn’t.
“Il Trovatore” features a notoriously complicated plot—long-ago curses, mixed up babies, a love triangle—much of which is explained, at length, in the opening scene, giving plenty of opportunities for an audience to zone out. The stage presence—and voice—of Darren K. Stokes as the show’s expositioneer, Ferrando, helped considerably, as did the concise direction and effectively dank set.
Still, I had Act I concerns. In the early stages of this “Trovatore,” many of the other leads seemed to be coasting, at least when it came to creating compelling characters. A relatively demure Leonora (Mary Elizabeth Williams), a Manrico (Arnold Rawls) who, thanks to hair and costume, appeared more suited to searching with his Hobbit friends for a magical ring, and a standard issue Count di Luna (Todd Thomas) didn’t make strong initial impressions.
They were schooled, though, by Laura Brioli, making her U.S. debut and leaving a powerful impression as the gypsy Azucena. Intensity, thy name is Brioli.
The chorus, anvils and all, and the orchestra also went a long way toward carrying the audience through to the final acts. At that point, the leads came into their own. Full, passionate singing suddenly rocked Clowes, with the orchestra seemingly pushing and pulling the singers to the top of their ability.
By the end, the Sunday audience seemed to have forgotten the beautiful afternoon weather outside—and the simultaneous Colts game—and lost themselves, if not in the plot, at least in vocal power. I was happy to be among them.