Il Trovatore brings Amber Wagner back to town | Bleader

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Il Trovatore brings Amber Wagner back to town

Posted By on 10.29.14 at 03:34 PM

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Amber Wagner wows.
Soprano Amber Wagner isn't a Chicagoan, but can't we claim her anyway?

Won't the developmental years she spent at Lyric Opera's Ryan Opera Center (2007-'10) allow us a few boasting rights?

It was clear from the first time Lyric put her on a Chicago stage that Wagner has that rarity, a voice that's not just excellent but—in its power and unique timbre—actually thrilling over most of its range.

That voice, like a searchlight in a room full of candles, is magnificently on display in Lyric Opera's current production of Giuseppi Verdi's Il Trovatore, in which Wagner's been cast as the opera's doomed love interest, Leonora.

And, in an embarrassment of riches, another woman of substance, powerhouse mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe, has the opera's other major female role. Blythe is the gypsy, Azucena, whose tormenting secret is at the center of this grandly melodic, enduringly popular, eccentrically plotted tragedy, first performed in 1853.

The story is set in Spain; David McVicar's production (originally seen at Lyric in the 2006-'07 season) moves it up from the 15th century to the 19th century. Originally relevant to that period's struggle for Italian nationhood, it now plays as a seasonally appropriate, psychologically spooky revenge tale, steeped in ghosts, witches, curses, madness, and death by burning at the stake. Also, long-lost siblings on opposite sides of warring factions, confused identities (abetted by a set that's basically a huge revolving wall), abused minorities, and a case of infanticide in which, in the literal heat of the moment, the wrong baby is thrown on the fire.

Azucena is mom to Leonora's boyfriend, Manrico (the troubadour of the title), nicely sung by Korean tenor Yonghoon Lee. Another successful Ryan Opera Center alum, baritone Quinn Kelsey, is Manrico's rival for Leonora, the villainous Count di Luna. And the Count's right-hand man, Ferrando, is handled by estimable bass Andrea Silvestrelli.

Verdi made Il Trovatore a vocal showcase for these five roles, and everyone delivers. But it's Wagner's voice that's likely to make you remember, years from now, that you were lucky enough to see Il Trovatore on the Lyric Opera stage in 2014.

Israeli conductor Asher Fisch leads the always excellent Lyric Opera Orchestra and chorus through a score that includes the famously thumping Anvil Chorus. Performances continue November 5.

Il Trovatore Through 11/29, times vary, see website, Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker, 312-419-0033, lyricopera.org, $34-$319.

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