Just wanted to quickly RAVE about Il Trovatore at the Met. We went to see it Tuesday night, a very last minute decision. I read this great review in the Times, which mentioned that bass baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky would be leaving after Saturday’s performance to get treatment in London for a brain tumor.

I hadn’t heard about his illness before – which he went public with in June after cancelling some recitals. It’s shocking news. Hvorostovsky is one of the reasons I became a late-in-life opera fan.

It was only a few years ago that the better half surprised me with opera tickets (not exactly on my birthday, but close to it.) It was a production of La Traviata with Natalie Desay singing Violetta, and Hvorostovsky as Germont. Who was the tenor? Who even cares?

Desay was of course great – which she usually is when she shows up. But Hvorostovsky was a revelation. He not only had a beautiful voice, but he managed to make Germont a surprisingly sympathetic character. Surprising, because anyone familiar with the opera can mentally reference those first very dark notes that herald the character’s arrival before he even sings.

Sure he manipulates Violetta, plays on her soft heartedness and gets her to give up the love of her life – even though it may cost her her life, but somehow we feel sympathy for him, and when the character comes to realize his mistake, Hvorostovsky sang his pain.

The next season we saw him as Rodrigo in Don Carlo. We disliked the production which was slow and drab, but Hvorostovsky again was a stand out. Last year, we caught him in Un Ballo En Mascara. I wish I’d seen him live in Eugene Onegrin, but I only caught that one on video.

He is not only an absolutely beautiful man with gorgeous head of snowy white hair (prematurely gray is not a description that does it justice), he is just the epitome of barrihunkdom – with a unique deep velvet voice. I had been planning on seeing Il Trovatore, but when I read that it would be the last chance to see him until February, and that given the uncertainty of his diagnosis, maybe the last chance to see him, I immediately decided to get standing room for that evening.

People who follow my cheap seats advice might wonder: “Why standing room?” My logic was as follows: There were very few seats left in the house. Most were way above my pay grade. It was almost 10 am. I could have waited and tried for rush-tickets at 12:00, but I knew I wouldn’t be the only one reading the Times rave, or finding out that Hvorostovsky would be leaving the production earlier than expected. With a cast that also included Anna Netrebko and Younghoon Lee, I knew the chances of successfully getting rush tickets – which are sold online on a “first come, first served” basis with everyone trying to “click” on at noon, would be slight. But I figured if I clicked onto standing room at 10, I’d have a good chance of getting the front row of standing, where you can actually see the stage and not the back of someone’s head. And yes, I did manage to snag front row “places” including one by the aisle which the somewhat claustrophobic better half appreciated.

How was it? Magnificent. Like Carmen, or La Traviata, there are enough familiar tunes in Il Trovatore and a lively enough plot to keep even a novice opera-goer entertained. Per the Times review, Hvorostovsky has lost nothing to his illness. He managed to make Di Luna, a flawed man whose pride and actions make him a villain, nevertheless sympathetic and tragic.

Netrebko was also at her best as Lenora. We’d heard Younghoon Lee before, as Don Jose in Carmen. I hadn’t been overly impressed then. It might have been a lack of chemistry with his co-star, but his performance seemed to lack passion, or rather his Don Jose had more passion writing to his mother than pursuing Carmen. However, Tuesday night Lee’s Manrico changed my mind about him. What a voice! And perfect for Verdi! Lyrical, romantic, valiant. Everything you could ask for in a tenor. We’d never heard mezzo-soprano Dolora Zajick before. She was outstanding as Azucena.

There was certainly an added excitement, the knowledge that though we should all be optimistic about Hvorostovsky’s prognosis, we must cherish him all the more, and there was great applause when he first appeared, as well as a much deserved standing ovation for his aria, Un Balen del Suo Sorrisa. (Even conductor Marco Armiliato put down his baton to clap.)

I can’t say enough good things about the production. I am absolutely snarkless – a rare event as anyone who follows my blogs can attest.

So what should you do if you don’t have tickets for the Saturday matinee performance? There are still a few left but only at $228 and up as of this writing. There will be a very limited number of rush seats available, so your chances of getting one, let alone two is low. You could try standing room, which you can’t buy on line for Saturday matinees. You might take your chances over the phone or at at the box office (but there’ll probably be a line). However, here’s some good news – even for people who don’t live anywhere near New York City: Saturday’s performance will be LIVE in HD. So you can see it (if it isn’t sold out) at a theater near you (maybe). And you should!

Taking you out is a clip of Hvorostovsky singing his aria (from the 2011 live in HD):

(If anyone wants to thank me for giving you great cheap tix tips and the rest of these amusing posts, please go to my Amazon page and buy a book. Your contribution will help feed a formerly feral cat who now lives better than most humans on the planet.)

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