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The Power of Italia with Il trovatore at Houston Grand Opera With Marco Berti

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When he was four years old, Marco Berti's mother took him to his first opera. "I liked the first act," the Italian tenor recalls. But by the second he wanted a Coke. Still, he remembered the atmosphere, the lights and the feeling of magic. And he continued to go.

So what did he grow up to be? "An electrician," he says with a laugh.

Fate (how appropriate for an opera singer) intervened in the form of a cousin who asked him to fill in at a wedding and sing Ave Maria. People liked what they heard, Berti found himself a teacher and ended up in a conservancy before launching his career.

Now Berti is back in Houston to sing the role of the troubadour Manrico in the Houston Grand Opera's production of Giuseppe Verdi's Il trovatore.

The story cannot be said to be a happy one. There's poison, babies switched at birth, thwarted love and fratricide. "But the music is fantastic," says Berti, who has sung Il trovatore so many times he wasn't sure he needed the entire rehearsal schedule called for by HGO.

Although this is Berti's "ninth or tenth" Il trovatore production, he says he loves singing it. "I like Verdi. Verdi doesn't destroy the voice." Beyond that, he feels Verdi "is really the Italian style, the Italian culture. Verdi for me is Italia."

Berti sings the role of Manrico, son of the gypsy Azucena and the troubadour who loves Leonora, who is also loved by the Count di Luna. The result is a story "half political and half a love story," Berti says.

There's a lot of convoluted dealings that follow in the three-act opera set in 15th-century Spain. American mezzo soprano Dolora Zajick sings the role of Azucena, while American soprano Tamara Wilson sings the part of Leonora in a production directed by HGO Artistic and Music Director Patrick Summers.

Performances of Il trovatore are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on April 26 and May 1, 4, 8 and 11 and at 2 p.m. Sunday, April 28, at the Wortham Theater, 501 Texas. For information, call 713-228-6737 or visit houstongrandopera.org.

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