ALAMEDA -- A woman watching Verdi's opera presentation of "Il Trovatore" at the Alameda Elks Lodge Ballroom turned to her friend and loudly whispered "Can you believe this is in Alameda?"
"Il Trovatore" is the most challenging and impressive show Alameda's Virago Theatre Company has ever attempted.
The cast includes seven soloists -- mostly professional -- and 12 chorus members, including five who double as understudies. Easy-to-read supertitles help monolingual Americans follow the Italian dialogue. Costuming, designed by Abra Berman helped by 14 assistants, is lavish and often magnificent.
Thought violent, the opera's able director, Ellen St. Thomas, sees this opera as a story of love in its many forms: a mother's move, a daughter's love, a son's love, doomed love, and unrequited love.
The plot takes place during the Spanish civil war in the 15th century. Before that conflict, a gypsy woman was condemned to death by fire for a spell she had allegedly put on a nobleman's infant son. The gypsy's daughter, now an adult, is called Azucena. (Her role is sung by Elizabeth Baker.)
She lives in the mountains with a band of gypsies. Azucena is unhappy, constantly seeing in her mind her mother's fiery end. She spends time looking after Manrico, a military man she says is her son.
The gypsies in this story are poor, but very happy. From children to elderly, the work hard while joking with one another. (One chorus member is just 7 years old. Angela Dant had to learn all the gypsies' Italian lines before she was permitted to join the cast.)
Opera composer Giuseppe Verdi was a man of passionate beliefs. Anti-war themes keep appearing in his operas; usually to move the love story into tragedy. The two major male characters in this opera, Manrico and Count di Luna, each command opposing armies.
Manrico is strongly sung by Alex Boyer, who has sung this role before in San Jose. Count di Luna is splendidly brought to life by bass Jo Vincent Parks.
Both men are in love with the same woman -- Leonora, a beautiful young noblewoman who is in service to Spain's princess.
Leonora is brilliantly sung by Eileen Meredith. Early in the opera, she tells the story of her romance with il trovatore (the troubadour) to her companion Inez (Jacque Wilson). Meredith sings most of the passionate arias throughout the opera. Especially moving is "D'amor Sull Ali Rosee" ("Love, Fly on Rosy Pinions"), an aria that does much to brighten the near end of the drama.
The acting and voices of all the singers are spectacular. This production is outstanding. We can be proud to have it here.
What: Verdi's "Il Trovatore"
Where: Alameda Elks Lodge Ballroom, 22255 Santa Clara Ave., Alameda
When: 8 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: $35 in advance; $45 at door
Information: 510-865-6327 or www.Viragotheatre.org.