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TAMPA - It was impossible to believe that music director Anton Coppola could achieve the degree of energy he did in Friday's Opera Tampa production of Verdi's classic Il Trovatore. After all, he's 90.
Yet in his special way, Coppola propelled this brilliant production along with speedy tempos, while always managing to slow things down at the right time, so his four lead singers could unfold all those gorgeous arias Verdi wrote into this great score.
With the support of a precise and accurate orchestra that never overpowered the soloist, the underpinnings for an evening of great entertainment were in place. And those voices on stage made sure it became just such a performance.
The leads were Sondra Kelly as Azucena, Kelly Cae Hogan as Leonora, Guido Le Bron as di Luna and Gustavo Lopez Manzitti as Manrico.
This listener had the pleasure of hearing Hogan about nine years ago, early in her career as she was just learning several major roles, and it was thrilling to hear how much richer her technique has become. In the Act I aria, Tacea la notte placida, the coloratura flourishes were elegant. In the tender act IV, D'amor sull'all rosee, she evoked the sorrow of her situation her lover Manrico is in prison, slated to die and sang with the most elegant pianissimo high notes.
Manzitti's Manrico was also a virtuoso performance, nailing his one high A with conviction.
Kelly gave the maddened Azucena an equally vivid performance. One would have wished for a slightly stronger chest voice to handle parts of her aria, Stride la vampa.
In Le Bron, a good Verdi baritone, the villainous Count was well represented, both musically and dramatically.
Stephan Kirchgraber's basso handled much of his role as Ferrando well, as did Stefanos Koroneos as Ruiz and Linda Mule Switzer as Inez. The male chorus had its ragged moments but made up in vigor what it sometimes lacked in accuracy; the women were fine.
The sets were magnificent. The modular sections, looking like they were built of massive stone blocks, used different elevations and entrances to give the stage an always-different look.
Michael Shell's direction took advantage of the setting to provide action in many ways.
Yet this is at heart a stand-and-sing work, in which the primary responsibility rests on those four principal singers to deliver Verdi's beautiful arias and convince us at the same time they mean what they're singing.
In this case, with the great help of their maestro, they delivered a performance of beauty and dramatic impact.