Traditional opera-goers will always hold Verdi’s “Il trovatore” close to their hearts no matter how silly and politically incorrect this contrived tale of mistaken identity and baby-burning, baby-switching gypsies told largely in “oom-pah-pah” triple meter may seem to modern sensibilities. No one takes this all more seriously than Lyric’s former artistic director Bruno Bartoletti, who was on the podium making his Lyric and American debut fifty years ago with this opera and is celebrating that anniversary with a grand return to this repertoire. You can’t help but wonder what Bartoletti must be thinking when he compares today’s voices to the iconic voices of yesteryear that he was fortunate enough to conduct as a young man, but his own interpretation is a welcome link with that past and the nuanced, Italianate detail that Bartoletti brings forth from the beloved score is becoming a lost art. Lyric is to be congratulated for assembling probably as fine an international cast as is possible these days, the biggest standout being Illinois-born soprano Sondra Radvanovsky, whose shimmering vocal brilliance in the role of Leonora reminds us that there are still rare Verdi voices around that can adequately fill the cavernous Civic Opera House. If Italian tenor Walter Fraccaro, making his Lyric debut as Manrico, does not have the same weight to his voice, his bel canto sound is at least the genuine article. Mezzo-soprano Dolora Zajick’s Azucena, heard here last time around in better vocal form, nonetheless offers dramatic gravitas to a role few can pull off credibly while baritone Mark Delevan is in splendid form vocally and dramatically as a suave Count di Luna. Kudos to Lyric for not tossing off the small but important role of Ferrando to a Ryan Opera Center participant but instead bringing in Italian bass Andrea Silvestrelli to set up this unlikely story in beautifully sung flashbacks. The new production brings the action forward 400 years—why not? The story is as implausible then as anytime—and includes an enormous turntable set that is greatly enhanced by dramatic lighting. (Dennis Polkow)
Civic Opera House, Wacker Drive at Madison, (312)332-2244. $31-$179. Through Dec 8.