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'Il Trovatore' very finely done

A lurid, captivating "Il Trovatore" is onstage this weekend at the Riviera Theatre, courtesy of Nickel City Opera. It is everything it promised to be.

Friday, you could not look away. People who love opera and this one in particular were giving it a perfect "10."

The sets are misty, mysterious and convincingly medieval. The costumes -- some come from the 1967 movie classic "Camelot" -- glimmer.

A fine cast of established, first-rate singers has been assembled, and they do a good job of selling this uncompromising creation. (It's funny how the poster, painted by a heavy-metal artist, nailed all the principals' faces.)

Victoria Livengood, as Azucena, is the stuff bad dreams are made of -- in other words, perfect. She rules the stage, not only with her haunting, resonant voice, but with her intensity. Elizabeth Blancke-Biggs soars as Leonora.

The moment when we first hear Eduardo Villa, as the troubadour Manrico, is thrilling. His voice comes from the back of the hall, resonant and pure and true.

All the voices are terrific. Valerian Ruminski, the creative director of NCO, sings the part of Ferrando, the Count's commander. Ruminski crafts his character parts with relish, and he's in fine form here, with hilarious wild hair and thigh-high boots. When the Count is planning his nefarious deeds, Ruminski beams and grins. As always, you've got to love him.

Deadline pressure made me leave before the end, which is too bad. Judging from the intensity of what I saw, the ending must be a killer.

It's a minor note, but Villa and Packard are not convincing as biological brothers. They do not look at all alike. Also, Packard is just too dreamy and handsome to be a convincing villain. His voice is rich and full of soul. You feel his love for Leonora as genuine, and marvel that she could turn him down.

Well, doesn't "Il Trovatore" demand suspending disbelief?

The opera repeats Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

e-mail: mkunz@buffnews.com

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Nickel City Opera    

Friday evening and 2:30 p.m. Sunday at the Riviera Theatre, North Tonawanda.    

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