ALAMEDA -- "Game of Thrones" meets "Il Trovadore" in Virago Theatre Company's bold, new interpretation of Verdi's operatic masterpiece running Jan. 31 to Feb. 9 at the Elks Ballroom, 2255 Santa Clara Ave.

Set in a tribal world, director Ellen St. Thomas has opted for a more edgy production, which includes lots of furs and leather reminiscent of television's popular "Game of Thrones." According to conductor Robert Ashens, the setting makes perfect sense for Verdi's plot, which takes place "when humankind struggled between barbaric thinking and noble evolution."

Set in a 15th century Spanish town, "Il Trovadore" tells of a classic love triangle with a gypsy curse thrown in to ensure lots of high drama. The Count di Luna loves the Lady Leonora but she loves the troubadour Manrico, who was raised by the gypsy Azucena. The count has long sought revenge on Azucena, believed to have killed his younger brother. The famous Anvil Chorus sung by the gypsies and an emotional ending make Verdi's masterpiece a favorite among opera aficionados.

"Trovatore is a benchmark opera that rocked the entire world," Ashens explained. "It's filled with tunes everyone has tried to steal, including a cartoon, plus high drama and singing artistry so challenging as to be acrobatic."

Eileen Meredith, who portrays Leonora, couldn't agree more.

"Verdi operas are often referred to as the Olympics of singing," she said. "Musically and dramatically, they can be difficult. But, Verdi also wrote so beautifully for the voice with such a lovely flow and an understanding of what the singer can do with ease. The part of Leonora just feels right for me vocally but memorizing all the Italian has been a bit challenging."

A founding member of Virago, Meredith is grateful for the many "dream" roles she has played with the company, including the title role in Don Giovanni's "Madama Butterfly." A versatile artist, Meredith also sings with the San Francisco Opera and recently recorded music for a Skywalker film to be shown at the Sundance Film Festival.

The most enjoyable part of preparing "Il Trovadore" for Meredith has been collaborating with the other singers and designers.

"I love working at this high level of skill, talent and love," she said. "The audience knows when performers really care about what they're doing -- that passion comes through."

Meredith's fellow singers include Alex Boyer (Manrico), Jo Vincent Parks (Count di Luna) and Elizabeth Baker (Azucena).

"We have all these big, beautiful voices, a 20-piece orchestra and a wonderful chorus," Meredith said. "The Elks Hall will be the perfect venue for this production -- big enough to accommodate everyone plus our wonderful set, yet still intimate."

FYI
"Il Trovadore" plays at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 31 and Feb. 7 and at 2 p.m. Feb. 2 and Feb. 9. A buffet dinner is available at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 31 nd Feb. 7. At the evening performances, Maestro Ashens will also offer a 7 p.m. lecture series on learning the Anvil Chorus.
Advance tickets are $35 will tickets at the door priced at $45. Call 510-865-6237 or go to www.viragotheatre.org.