Il Trovatore, Verdi's 1853 maelstrom of passion, infanticide, double-crossing and revenge, would be a mightily gamy affair if it didn't contain some of his finest arias, a cracker of a tenor's role and one of opera's most powerfully-written characters in the old gypsy woman, Azucena. Although Joan Sutherland, who plays the self-sacrificing lady-in-waiting Leonora in this 1983 Australia Opera production at Sydney Opera House, is the headline star, in truth the supreme assets of this recording are mezzo-soprano Lauris Elms' Azucena, a beautifully sung performance of haunted, wild-eyed sadness; and Sydney Nolan's wonderfully infernal sets, all purple and burnt ochre with suggestions of distorted faces.
Sutherland came late to a part which allowed her to sing up a storm without taxing her rather stolid acting style. Her husband and musical director Richard Bonynge gives her the space to unleash some of Verdi's most fluidly opulent melodies--D'amor sull'ali rosee is a case in point--whose beauty is often at odds with the underlying horrors of the tale, based on a rather dodgy Spanish melodrama by Gutierrez. Sutherland has strong support from tenor Kenneth Collins as the doomed Manrico and Jonathan Summers as the vengeful Count.