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Review: The Met Bets Successfully On Jennifer Rowley in Its Latest ‘Il Trovatore’

By Mark McLaren, Editor in Chief, January 22, 2018

Surrounded by three opera powerhouses, a young American soprano tonight made another hefty, iconic role debut at the Metropolitan Opera. Her second such in ten days. And fearlessly.

The soprano is Jennifer Rowley, and following last season’s success in Cyrano de Bergerac, she and Met Opera general manager Peter Gelb audaciously agreed to Tosca and Leonora in 2018.

Well, success is Gelb’s and Rowley’s as the Met remounts Sir David McVicar’s drab Il Trovatore with a vocally impressive wonder-cast that acts with ruthless efficiency.

Quinn Kelsey and Yonghoon Lee in Metropolitan Opera’s ‘Il Trovatore;’ photo: Karen Almond/Metropolitan Opera.

Georgian soprano Anita Rachvelishvili, as the gypsy Azucena, eats passion for breakfast. Her mezzo is lush and secure. Her acting is as tight as a cimbalom, nuanced and well-strung. And the two live happily together. I’ll head to any opera house to hear this woman sing anything, anytime.

Anita Rachvelishvili in Met Opera’s ‘Il Trovatore;’ photo: Karen Almond/Metropolitan Opera.

intelligent restraint, in the midst of a libretto that is anything but restrained, was the name of the acting game tonight and a Hawaiian baritone holds his cards nicely close to the vest. Power and lust surge under the belt while Quinn Kelsey’s impressive voice rings through the house. Kelsey, like Rachvelishvili, is a force of nature – and a beautiful one. Solid acting skills harnessed to a big, expressive and satisfying voice.

Quinn Kelsey, Yonghoon Lee and Jennifer Rowely in Met Opera’s ‘Il Trovatore;’ photo: Karen Almond/Metropolitan Opera.

Another force of nature is the impressive Yonghoon Lee, whose tenor is confident and whose “Di quella pira” is an evening highlight. Tenors are hard to trust, and Lee is a tenor you can trust. If he can work through some very slight vocal and dramatic idiosyncrasies, he will be a very impressive artist.

And rounding out this quartet is Rowley, who this season sings two iconic roles at the Met, including tonight’s Leonora. She made her Met Tosca debut just over a week ago, appearing once during a run lead by Sonya Yoncheva and Anna Netrebko. These are big names and these are big roles. Daunting roles. Roles owned by the ghosts of opera singers past. Tonight, I might have liked a bigger sound. But that is enough of that nonsense – time will address that matter. It’s inspiring to me that any opera singer will walk on stage, competing against eighty years of recorded history. Rowley did just that tonight and she triumphed.

Yonghoon Lee and Jennifer Rowley in Met Opera’s ‘Il Trovatore;’ photo: Karen Almond/Metropolitan Opera.

She is a smart, concise actor. Il Trovatore is utter melodrama, and Rowley’s restraint, like that of her colleagues, turns melodrama nicely into drama.

Vocally, Rowley is a gift. Leonora is a long haul. And there are a few moments in this performance that strain – but ever so slightly. Rowley is young, frankly a tad so for this role. At its best, and displayed for most of this debut, Rowley’s soprano is delicious; brilliant spinto coated in caramel. A sound simultaneously thrilling and relaxing. And ultimately comforting. This comforting excitement is supported by impressive technical abilities, abilities on impressive display tonight.

At one time, opera houses developed talent. Think Beverly Sills and New York City Opera.

The jet age squashed that opera house mission a tad.

But interestingly, Gelb is looking both to the past and to the future and is aggressively (and happily) promoting new opera talent. Sonya Yoncheva (here in this season’s Tosca), Pretty Yend (here in last season’s I Puritaniand now Jennifer Rowley join the rank of Metropolitan Opera house sopranos – sopranos developed, a tad, by Gelb. And they join Sondra Radvonovsky (here, here, here, and here), Nina Stemme (here), and the opera superstar, Anna Netrebko whose careers were promoted by the Met.

And now, there is this exciting cast in this exciting Il Trovatore, with an exciting new Gelb soprano, at the Met. I suggest you take it in.

Metropolitan Opera general manager Peter Gelb talks with ZEALnyc about opera talent here.

ZEALnyc speaks with soprano Jennifer Rowley here, and reviews her Roxane in Cyrano de Bergerac here, and her Tosca here.

Il Trovaatore, by Giusppe Verdi, plays at the Metropolitan Opera through February 15th in a production by Sir David McVicar and conducted by Marco Armiliato and with set designs by Charles Edwards, costume design by Brigitte Reiffenstuel, lighting design by Jennifer Tipton, choreography by Leah Hausman, revival staging by Daniel Rigazzi, and with a cast including Stefan Kocán, Sarah Mesko, Jennifer Rowley, Quinn Kelsey, Yonghoon Lee, Anita Rachvelishvili, Edward Albert, David Lowe and Eduardo Valdes.

Cover photo: Soprano Jennifer Rowley in Metropolitan Opera’s ‘Il Trovatore;’ photo: Karen Almond/Metropolitan Opera.


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