Having seen a small local production of Verdi’s Il trovatore in Richmond Hill Saturday night, the tunes & situations were very fresh in my head tonight for a broadcast of a 2012 production of the very same opera with big name talents from La Monnaie directed by one of the hottest young directors in the world, namely Dmitri Tcherniakov.
This is the Tcherniakov who makes his Met debut in a few weeks with a production of Prince Igor. Peter Gelb was quoted in a NY Times article as saying the director “would strip away the usual medieval pageantry and send Igor on a “psychological journey.” I’d already seen something as adventurous in a TFO broadcast last year of Ruslan und Ludmilla that included the most outrageously camp beginning, that was then revealed to be merely a costumed performance, a virtual opera within the opera. What looks conventional turned out to be edgy and provocative.
I did my best to decode Tcherniakov’s take on Trovatore in a single viewing on television (thanks to TFO, the most exciting programming in the area), but would welcome a second look. It’s deep.
The entire opera is set in one room. Azucena and Ferrando seem to work together, handing out printed scenarios to the others –the Count di Luna, Manrico and Leonora—who then roleplay them out in full view of the others, at least until they lose control of the exercise. When they walked into the space at the beginning it felt as though Ferrando and Azucena were real estate agents, with Di Luna & Manrico sizing up the place as though they were potential buyers. As it went along, Ferrando felt more like the man with a memory, the story-teller we’re accustomed to from conventional readings of the opera. The space is classical but timeless, sparsely furnished, and well lit.
We discover that the chorus will not appear. When the men listen to Ferrando telling stories in the first scene, it’s di Luna and Manrico who engage him. When the chorus are written to show fear, these two choristers –the principals that is—laugh it off, until they hear the offstage chorus expressing their fears, and then start to show their doubts. It’s in moments like this that Tcherniakov lures us in, surprising us with depths.
Where are we exactly? For the first two acts I thought I might be watching a kind of therapy, where Azucena & Ferrando engage with persons or souls such as Di Luna, Manrico & Leonora, who listen to one another as if in group therapy. That changes partway through, as di Luna pulls out a gun, changing the dynamics suddenly from something that seems to be about story-telling, spirits & karma, to something suddenly about power & fear. In due course di Luna shoots Ferrando and then when –in the usual place—discovers he’s been betrayed, shoots Manrico too. With the texts being enacted we are able to have our cake and eat it too, to have cardboard rigidity in some of the lines, with overtones of subtlety & depth.
I’d expressed my scepticism generally about Regietheater approaches to this opera, which I believe is one that is so melodramatic as to resist modernization. But in fairness Tcherniakov brings some wonderful insights into many moments in the scenes, stirring things up. Trovatore is an opera full of stories from long ago, told in a series of scenes that are themselves full of stories. Ferrando tells a story of long ago. Leonora tells Ines about a voice she heard singing. Azucena tells a story about something that happened long ago. And so on and so on. So while the original is melodramatic and in some respects two dimensional, those two dimensional aspects can inform moderns as if they were archetypes. At times it is as though we are watching modern people who have a deep subtext haunting them from another century, or another life. They sing of the old medieval story while looking like moderns. And so, while Leonora ostensibly says she will give herself –future tense—to di Luna, in this story it seems very evident that she’s done so, as we watch them lying onstage for the substantial scene of the last act where Manrico talks to his mother. It’s dense with meanings that I believe would be released even further with multiple viewings.
I continue to be impressed with Tcherniakov, and eagerly anticipate his Prince Igor. For what it’s worth, he was received rapturously by the audience at this live broadcast, which likely wasn’t an opening night. But overall this is Regietheater that works.
The singing is mostly excellent. The women are the best singers in this production. Sylvie Brunet-Grupposo has a stunning voice, offering a rather subtle Azucena, especially in context with the directness of the performances I saw last night. In the first half of Tcherniakov’s reading, we could be at a séance watching people speak of souls from other lives, even when they’re singing passionately about their own lives. Marina Poplavskaya is spectacular throughout, dramatically very complex in her response to the layers implicit in this production. Misha Didyk is a spinto Manrico with no high C but lots of power throughout. Scott Hendricks gives as sympathetic a portrayal of the Count di Luna as one could expect, given Tcherniakov’s overlay. Hendricks is a local favourite, having sung Iago & Amonasro here in recent years.
Marc Minkowski’s conducting was brisk & clear, always helping his singers.
I didn’t see any sites offering anything but PAL discs (which aren’t usually compatible with North American players), and so for the time being I’d be cautious about buying them unless you’re certain you have the right equipment to play that format.