Friday, 22 June 2012

Deconstructing Il trovatore: A role play in Bruxelles

Il trovatore. Opera Monnaie, Bruxelles. June 19th 2012. Production:  Dmitri Tcherniakov. Conductor: Marc Minkowski. Cast: Misha Didyk (Manrico), Marina Poplavskaya (Leonora), Scott Hendricks (Luna), Sylvie Brunet (Azucena), Giovanni Furlanetto (Ferrando).

Right at the beginning a signboard tells us that ” years have passed since some of the events of Il Trovatore”. In fact, we are inside a deserted patrician villa in present time. Azucena has invited the participants Manrico (a rock-musician), Luna (a businessman), Leonora (a femme fatale) and Ferrando (Luna´s father?) to participate in “a role play to elucidate their common past” as written on a signboard.
Initially, the singers read their lines from a piece of paper, but as the opera moves on, the characters identify more and more with their Trovatore counterparts: Luna grows increasingly mad, Leonora and Manrico have a love affair, and Azucena, a jaded beauty, eventually becomes mad.
According to the programme notes, director Dmitri Tcherniakovs rationale was that, in his opinion, the first 2,5 acts consist mainly of flash-backs and story-telling and only the last 3 scenes represent present day. As he feels the role of the chorus is secondary and static they are placed in the pit. All the small roles (Ines etc.) have been dispersed with and their parts are sung by some of the other characters and we are presented with a true chamber play facilitated by Tcherniakovs superb personal direction.
All this culminates in a last act, where Luna have gone completely mad and kills Manrico, after Leonora poisoned herself (he already killed Ferrando in the end of Act 3), only to die of a heart attack when Azucena told him, he´d kill his brother.

For me, there are some major logical gaps, that I can´t seem to get around: 1) It was my impression that these 5 people did not know each other beforehand. Then, however, there is a logic gap in Act 4, when Luna shoots his brother Manrico. So this shabby musician was the brother of the business man? And how did that come about? And where does all the gypsy business then fit in? 2) According to Dmitri Tcherniakov´s program notes, however, the protagonists shared a common past. In that case Act 4 makes sense, however, everything sung about troubadours and gypsies does not as I don´t assume Tcherniakov meant them to have known each other in some metaphysical way 800 years earlier??

You sometimes hear the saying that the action in Il trovatore is so improbable, that a realistic staging does not makes sense. Not necessarily true as David McVicar does a fine job at the DVD from the Metropolitan Opera in a relatively traditional staging focusing on the drama between the protagonists.
Such a deconstructional version of Il Trovatore as Dmitri Tcherniakovs is rarely seen in a major opera house. Tcherniakovs version has nothing to do with the libretto, of course, but nevertheless the idea is quite intriguing and gives reason for afterthought for a long time. However, the concept is 100% reliant upon the theatrical qualities of the singers, and here Dmitri Tcherniakov worked with an exceptionally committed team. As theatre however, I am ambiguous as too whether it worked out. You´d have to appreciated the finesses in the chamber play, otherwise you´d be terribly bored as I couldn´t help being for the first two acts, at least.

Now to the singing – aiaiai - applause after several of the major arias was no more than barely polite. First, and worst, Misha Didyk: A couple of notes in his middle register sounded about right. The rest, vast majority were indeterminable. Needless to say, he was massively overparted here.

Then, Marina Poplavskaya, a singer with an exceptionally beautiful middle register and a fascinating stage presence- whatever is meant by X-factor, she definitely has it. The singing however, was to put it very diplomatically, not quite at the level demanded by the challenges of the part.  Her legato-lines are virtually non-existent, often she retorted to shrieking out her top notes and the coloraturas were not to be repeated. Why she signed on to this is beyond me. I sincerely hope she will never sing this part again.

I didn´t quite take to Scott Hendricks rather grainy baritone, but as a singer-actor he is quite formidable, in many ways dramatically carrying the show. Last, and best, was Sylvie Brunet as Azucena, a solid as well as unusually elegant performance. Deservedly she got the biggest applause of the evening.

Also superb was Marc Minkowski in the pit, a swift dynamic reading, with a interesting emphasis on the woodwinds, that I haven´t heard before.

The bottom line (scale of 1-5, 3=average):

Misha Didyk: 1
Marina Poplavskaya: 2
Scott Hendricks: 3
Sylvie Brunet: 4-5

Dmitri Tcherniakov´s production: 3

Marc Minkowski: 5

Overall impression: 3-4


Anonymous said...

And yet another example of the indefensible and most idiotic trend in opera today of moving away from an emphasis on the music, vocalists and conductors towards the director/production itself.

Anonymous said...

Absurd, idiotic production! Stop with your nonsenses, please, Mr. Tcherniakov. Look for some other business!

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