‘Dream Cast’ Lifts Verdi’s Singers’ Opera

Verdi’s Il Trovatore is a singers’ opera: it demands great singers, and, when great singers are present, it can become a powerful experience.

Fort Worth Opera’s current production, which opened Saturday night at Bass Performance Hall, has, in its four principals, a dream cast. First among equals, as Leonora, is soprano Marjorie Owens, a Virginia native and Baylor graduate who is clearly headed toward operatic superstardom.

Owens owns a particularly spectacular upper range. She has volume to spare, and, apparently, the lungs of a pearl diver, enabling her to sustain high notes that are not only intense but beautiful. Although Leonora is not a role one associates with subtlety and finesse, Owens, drawing on a fine sense of musicality, created a constantly engaging rendition of an impetuous, love-stricken, and ultimately brave young woman. She is the sort of singer whose voice and presence on the stage enlivens an entire performance.

But Owens isn’t the only star in this production. Fans of great singing who make the drive over to Fort Worth can experience a steady flow of wonderful vocal performances, presented with a level of devotion that imbues Verdi’s sometimes twisted plot with momentum and credibility. Mezzo-soprano Victoria Livengood, who owns a dusky, auditorium-filling voice, emphasized the crazed, post-traumatic delusional aspects of the character of Azucena, the old gypsy woman. Korean-born tenor Dongwon Shin performed the role of Manrico with vocal brilliance and dramatic boldness. Baritone Malcolm McKenzie was equally well-focused and dramatically obsessive as Count di Luna, while bass-baritone Tyler Simpson, in the pivotal comprimario role of Fernando, constantly provided essential impetus.

Although, ultimately, Trovatore may reasonably be viewed as a series of showpiece arias, it should ultimately be much more. Conductor Joe Illick provided convincing momentum, drawing on the broad romanticism of Verdi’s score. Director David Lefkowich took an appropriately traditional approach to staging , in harmony with Milanka Beverovic’s costumes and in appealing tension with the sweeping gestures of Dejan Miladinovic’s epic sets, originally designed for Opera Pacific. Trovatore may well be thought of as a series of grand arias aimed at showcasing singers. When the singers are as great as these, it becomes a vision of a world in turmoil.

Image: The gypsies sing about life’s pleasures as they greet the morning in the Fort Worth Opera’s production of Verdi’s Il Trovatore. (Photo: Ron T. Ennis)