Sometimes something can become so popular that it loses favor with audiences.
That's what director John Hoomes believes happened with Verdi's "Il Trovatore," which makes its first Arizona Opera appearance in nearly 20 years.
"There are a lot of people who say that if audiences like something too much it can't be any good," said Hoomes, who is directing the production. "'Trovatore' was a huge hit, probably a Top 10 opera for years and years, and then it kind of faded. Now it's starting to come back more and more."
The performance at Tucson Music Hall this weekend is a new production of the convoluted story of bitter rivalries, blood-soaked revenge, jealousy and turmoil set in medieval Spain.
"It is one of the top Verdi operas that he ever wrote as far as music, as far as melody, as far as passion," said Hoomes, general and artistic director of the Nashville Opera, who is making his third appearance with Arizona Opera. "It's a great piece."
The new production employs video projections to fill in the setting blanks and give us a glimpse of some characters' mindsets.
"Every now and then we use the video to go more into the psychology of the character singing. So if someone has an extended monologue like Azucena (mezzo-soprano Mary Phillips) does about her mother dying, we use the video to kind of get in her head during the aria," Hoomes explained. "We see some of what she sees back there."
In a phone call last week, Hoomes gave us his reasons why we will love "Il Trovatore."
The best singers in the world: "This is a singers' opera and you've got to find the singers who can actually sing it and sing the show well. (Tenor Enrico) Caruso's famous line was 'All you need to produce 'Trovatore' are the four best singers in the world.' And it really lives and dies on its singing, and we have a fabulous cast that all understand the style vocally. They're terrific."
'Big boy opera': "I think this is a great show to start with. But I think this is 'big boy' opera. It has all the elements people think about when they come to opera. There's elaborate costuming, we have a great set. We're incorporating video projection into the set. We have the singing. We have the orchestra. It's almost as if we have the checklist of what you need in opera, and this piece has it. We have great choruses. The 'Anvil Chorus' is from this. It works."
Modern touches to medieval times: "We're keeping this in period in terms of medieval times. But it's sort of like Verdi meets 'Braveheart.' The costuming - all the men have armor and capes and all the women have period dresses. However, the stage setting, although it's traditional, we are incorporating video projections that do a couple of things. … The video serves as a purpose to set time and place. We have images of castles and moons. … That's the modern touch. Verdi, of course, never did that. We're just trying to find a way to enhance and still interpret the piece, and make it accessible for a modern audience."
Adding technology does not subtract value: "Whether some people enjoy it or not, this is the wave of the future. The world is changing, the opera world is changing. ... There's high-def (opera) broadcasts. The world is moving forward in a different direction, so we're embracing that and trying to work with it, but still keeping the integrity of the piece. What we don't want to do is diminish the piece itself. We hope we can enhance it."
'Phantom of the Opera' in its day: "I like the music a lot. The critics in Verdi's day who didn't like the piece, they felt it was a meat-and-potatoes, please-the-audience piece. This was like 'Phantom of the Opera' of its day. People just flocked to it. And a lot of critics didn't like it because of that. But I love the music. I think the music is timeless, it's very hum-able."
Convoluted plot tailor-made for a Quentin Tarantino movie: "The plot is kind of snickered at because it's so convoluted, but it's no more convoluted than some soap opera that you watch. But I kind of like the characters. I love Azucena, this woman whose sole purpose in life is seeking the revenge of her mother's death and is willing to do anything. I'm surprised Quentin Tarantino hasn't gotten his hands on this and made it into a movie because the plot hinges on this woman's attempt at revenge and what she will do for it. But there's also revenge and a love triangle, soldier choruses. But we keep coming back to this one woman's obsessiveness to make things right."
Timeless: "One thing we learn in opera is that human nature, for better or worse, does not change. We see these same things repeated over and over."
If you go
• What: Arizona Opera's production of Verdi's "Il Trovatore."
• When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.
• Where: Tucson Music Hall, 260 S. Church Ave.
• Tickets: $30 to $120 through www.ticketmaster.com
• Running time: 2 hours 43 minutes, with one intermission.
• Et cetera: Sung in Italian with English surtitles.
Azucena, a gypsy woman, sets out to avenge her mother's execution and ends up mistakenly tossing her infant son into a furnace thinking he was the infant she kidnapped from the count who had executed her mother after another son of his became ill under her spell.
Realizing what she has done, Azucena takes the count's son and raises him as her own, instilling in him a hatred for the count's family and a shared desire for revenge.
That's the backstory, which you don't see before the curtain opens. We pick up the story with the boy, Manrico, the Troubadour, all grown up and in love with the noblewoman Leonora, who is also the object of affection for Count di Luna, who also is, unbeknownst to either of them, Manrico's brother. The two men set off to dual over Leonora's affections and Manrico wins the fight, but can't bring himself to kill the count.
The count, not one to play by the rules, plots to kidnap Leonora, but Manrico foils the plan and the lovers run off together.
When the count and his men go looking for them at the gypsy camp, one of his men recognizes Azucena as the woman who killed the infant that they believed was the count's brother. So he captures her and sentences her to die. Which leads Manrico to her prison, where he, too, is captured. Leonora attempts to free him by agreeing to marry the count. But instead of saying "I Do," she takes poison and ends up dying in Manrico's arms in the prison cell.
Of course, Manrico is then accused of killing her, which leads the count - his brother - to put him to death. And, in perhaps the most twisted moment of the opera, Azucena witnesses the execution, which, for her, is the ultimate revenge for her mother's death: the count kills the brother that she was accused of killing.