I’ve heard the story told many times before, so I know I must detach from all sense and sensibility to hear it again. As a poet and a sort of sculptor I am practiced at granting creative license –mostly to myself, but this story demands the greatest of generosity from its listeners.
If a story must have a beginning, a middle and an end, then this one has a bad beginning, bad middle and a bad end. However, I have been captivated by its telling from the start and have returned to hear it again and again. After all, it’s opera and it’s sung. In an opera it’s the singing that counts. When it’s Verdi’s Il Trovatore, only the singing counts.
I arrived at Circular Quay a little early so I tried to relax by taking in the view. Yet another cruise ship was in Sydney Harbour –was it the fifth this month? I lost count.
Time for the opera. Here’s the story – please remember I didn’t write it:
A gypsy was accused of casting an evil spell on a child and burnt as a witch. Her daughter, seeking revenge, takes the child and throws him in a fire at the same spot where her mother was killed. She turns around and sees him still standing beside her –oops she’d thrown her own son in the fire. She brings him up as her own.
Grown up, Manrico fell in love with Leonora but his real brother, Count di Luna was also in love with her. A few fights ensued and eventually the Count has Manrico and his mother in custody, he for being a partisan rebel and she for murdering his brother. He sentenced them to death.
Leonora tried to save Manrico (but not his mother) by promising herself to the Count but secretly took some poison. Alas she dies before Manrico was freed and he was killed. His mother went berserk and told the truth: the Count has killed his brother, haha. The end.
This has to be the worst plot ever but it was saved by some of the best singers in the world. Anna Netrebko’s Leonora was spellbinding; Dmitri Hvorostovsky returned from brain cancer surgery to sing the Count brilliantly (he received a sustained ovation before he even opened his mouth), Manrico was sung by Yonghoon Lee, whom Susan Graham, who introduced the programme kept calling Young Hoon, sang his way into the hearts of every female in the audience, I’m sure. The gypsy Azucena was Dolora Zajick; she was most convincing as the mad daughter who burnt her own son in a blinding rage.
So it matters not how ridiculous the plot; the worst story can be mesmerising when told well, especially in song.
Satisfied, I watched the cruise ship do an impressive three point turn, reversing towards the Sydney Harbour Bridge and went behind the Sydney Opera House, to sea.