This week, the LA Opera brings Il Trovatore to home viewers everywhere from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, longtime stage for the Oscars. Twice! In back-to-back performances, a brace of American tenors assay the role of the troubadour Manrico. We at home are getting the welcome chance to compare and contrast.
A live stream on October 3 showcases the formidable Limmie Pulliam, a contender who has been proving his worth in the Verdi repertoire with regional performances of Otello and the Requiem. For a second live stream, on October 6, the role passes to Gregory Kunde. A former bel canto sensation with the lanky grace of the mid-career Clint Eastwood, he’s in high demand these days for heavyweight parts, among them Otello and others of Verdi’s, as well as Samson and Calaf.
In all performances, Manrico’s sworn enemy Count di Luna is played by Vladimir Stoyanov, a Bulgarian baritone recently named a Knight of Verdi by the all-male Club dei 27, a circle scarcely less exclusive than Britain’s Order of the Garter.
Founded six decades ago, the brotherhood has its seat in Parma, capital of the Northern Italian province of that name and home to the most know-it-all Verdi audiences in the world. Membership is capped at the number of the master’s operas (26) plus one for the Requiem (but excluding wholesale revisions like Jérusalem, the French reboot of La Battaglia di Legnano). Each incumbent’s name is coupled with a specific title. If you’re thinking Skull & Bones or The Da Vinci Code, you might not be alone.
What makes the Parmigiani so possessive about Verdi? He’s one of their own, born a mere 20 miles away in the village of Le Roncole. Woe betide the itinerant showboat who displeases these very picky self-appointed keepers of his flame. Offenders are booed without compunction. On the other hand, local darlings are cheered to the sky.
Since the late 1970s, when the 27 dreamed up the title of Cavaliere di Verdi, their Round Table has grown to some two dozen. Among the honorees we find the three illustrious historic tenors Beniamino Gigli, Franco Corelli, and Carlo Bergonzi as well as the Three Tenors of more recent fame; the conductors Riccardo Muti and Claudio Abbado, inducted a year apart; the sopranos Renata Tebaldi and Renata Scotto, but not Maria Callas; and the director-designer Pier Luigi Pizzi, but not Franco Zeffirelli. There’s also an American musicologist: Philip Gossett, general editor of the critical Verdi edition published by the University of Chicago in cooperation with the venerable Casa Ricordi, in Milan.
As fortune would have it, Stoyanov is not the only Knight of Verdi onboard for the Los Angeles Trovatore. Kunde is another, which gives their face-off a special cachet.
James Conlon conducts. The company’s music director since 2006, he’s a maestro with all opera at his fingertips, and the skills of a great communicator besides. Want a seat for his lively and illuminating pre-curtain talks? Come early. Happily, Conlon has just extended his commitment to the company through 2024–25. Lucky Angelenos!
Il Trovatore is on stage at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion through October 10. Live streams of the performance are available on the LA Opera Web site on October 3 and October 6
Matthew Gurewitsch writes about opera and classical music for AIR MAIL. He lives in Hawaii