Il Trovatore, La Monnaie/De Munt in Brussels, June 10 2012
Director ..... Dmitri Tcherniakov
Music direction ..... Marc Minkowski
Il Conte di Luna ..... Scott Hendricks
Manrico ..... Misha Didyk
Azucena ..... Sylvie Brunet-Grupposo
Leonora ..... Marina Poplavskaya
Ferrando ..... Giovanni Furlanetto
La Monnaie Symphony Orchestra & Chorus
does it again. does a good job although I doubt Verdi is his niche. of course rocked. has a pretty voice. is in the mezzo world what Krassimira Stoyanova is in the soprano-land. was not at her best but she still managed. is a reliable singer and he did well considering the size of his role in the show.
This opera was first performed at La Monnaie only three years after its world premiere in Rome, with a difference that in Brussels --in 1856-- it was performed in French for the first time, under the supervision of Verdi himself, who introduced quite a bit of changes with respect to the Italian version. That French version then became a model that Verdi used when revising the original score and it is a version we are given to see today.
Honestly, I never understood the fuss about this opera and the statement that Il Trovatore is one of the 25 most performed operas in the world is to me more of a testimony of bad taste (not to use a harsh term) of the opera crowd.
Il Trovatore is a prototype of what I call 'bad Verdi'. Other bad Verdi operas are his lesser known works, Stiffelio, Aida, La Forza del destino, Rigoletto... while in the folder of good Verdi operas I would put Falstaff, Otello, Don Carlo, Macbeth, La Traviata... The musical simplicity of Il Trovatore would not be irritating if it was not regularly performed with outrageously intense pathos that would remain a paragon of bad taste until a few verismo operas saw the light of the opera houses. Worse of all, the libretto of Il Trovatore is downright racist.Maybe being racist was acceptable at the time Verdi composed his opera but that doesn't make it easier for us to stomach it today. McVicar's production of Il Trovatore that we could see last year live from The Met is an example how this opera should not be staged.
Libretto borrowed all the defaults from the bel-canto operas --it is badly sewn and the frame for drama is defined in an opening aria...
And yet the opera was and still is a big success. For all the bad reasons, if you ask me! Today it is often quoted as one of the most challenging operas for Verdian singers. This never impresses me: I don't enjoy watching singers tearing themselves apart to hit all the top notes in full voice while shoveling all the low notes in pain.
Now, you may ask why the heck I would spend Sunday in Brussels to see the premiere of Il Trovatore if I evidently disliked the opera in question. Well, there are several reasons: La Monnaie is one of the 5 best opera houses in Europe and I knew they would not allow a stupid production of Il Trovatore to be given on their stage. I bet Peter de Caluwe shares a part of my feelings for this opera except that he recognizes its popularity with the public and wanted to meet the challenge -- stage it in the Best Opera House 2011 by making it better than it actually is [similarly Dietmar Schwarz confided Aida to Calixto Bieito in Basle about two years ago, and turned the opera I intensely dislike to one of my most memorable nights at the opera]. Peter de Caluwe opted for Dmitri Tcherniakov, one of the very best directors of our time, whose every show is positively `disturbing', who teaches us that opera is not dead art filled with stale productions -- but that everything can be viewed a little bit differently, that nothing is entirely what it seems... that life is more about our capacity to embrace differences then asserting our certainties.
Dima has courage to cut through the crap and for example turned the message of Les Carmélites that pretended there was something noble in the act of collective suicide for ideological, political or religious reasons. He made a twist and made the opera look as an act of celebration of human life -- which is so utterly right -- philosophically or even metaphysically [let me remind you that Tcherniakov's Blanche de la Force did not join the sisters in the collective suicide but instead came to rescue them, one by one]. So yes, Dima was my main reason to go to Brussels. Not lesser a reason was Scott Hendricks, who elevated the Warlikowski's Macbeth so high that even today this stands as one of my lifetime best operatic experiences -- that too happened in Brussels a couple of years ago. Sylvie Brunet-Grupposo must be a mezzo-equivalent to Krassimira Stoyanova: one of the most great voices in business, a lady who sings honestly and elegantly. Azucena is a tough role to sing, and I feared it might be too big for her, although I knew she would made it sound great. Misha Didyk is a very good tenor and Giovanni Furlanetto a splendid bass, so I knew the singing would be good, without shouting and mannerisms. Marina Poplavskaya is admittedly a controversial singer: you either like her singing or dislike it, but nobody can deny that her voice is big, that she radiates something special when on stage, something melancholic, tender... and that she incarnates the verdian roles the way no other singer can.
|Scott Hendricks, Marina Pops Poplavskaya, Misha Didyk, Sylvie Brunet, and Giovanni Furlanetto|
So yes, the singers were all very good, nobody was screaming or shouting, nobody was trying to make the show about him/herself. Everything they did or sang was for the drama. They all followed the directions by Tcherniakov and in the end the opera looked and sounded great. It is the visual aspect that sets up the atmosphere, it is the theatrical brilliance of Tcherniakov that reminded us that even this opera can be a magnificent theatrical event. For the musical part the Oscar goes to... Marc Minkowski . This must be his first Verdi, and I loved what I was given to hear. He gave the score nuances and rounded the rough edges, put a special emphasis on its lyric and dramatic content.Minkowski is known for his renditions of Mozart opera, the French repertoire, and baroque. Verdi may not be his niche but this was simply magnificent.
Of course Tcherniakov kicked all the racist crap out of his show and --similar to his groundbreaking productions of Eugene Onegin and Don Giovanni-- organized the dramatic action on a single set, depicting a house of a wealthy woman (Azucena) who receives the guests for an evening of role-play that would eventually turn into nightmare. Let me briefly recount how it is actually structured as the theatrical genius of this man is mind-boggling.
So the invités were coming one by one before the music started. You could immediately feel the tension in the handshake between Manrico (a singer in a leather jacket) and a businessman Count di Luna (in a suit, coat). The arrival of Leonora corroborated the tension between the two men. Ferrando --in this production-- is Di Luna's father who is aware of his son's bad temper and who will constantly try and calm him down.
After all four of them arrived, the hostess --Azucena-- locks the door (the music begins!) and proposes her guests to play the roles in the given plot and thereby try to uncode the key of destiny that unites them all.
Three men sit around the table, get the sheets of paper with the plot and listen to Ferrando who reads the background story [Di due figli vivea padre beato].
All the other tableaux in the first part of the show are staged similarly. They play the roles to remember a given episode from Il Trovatore, and the game they play starts progressively mixing up with their real lives relationships.
Chorus is in the pit with the orchestra [no Muti and the huge pointless chorus scenes here! YAY] The episode in which Azucena sings Stride la vampa is preceded by the matron bringing a large jewelry box and, while singing, she takes out the pieces of jewelry and puts them all on herself. This is the only reference to her being a Gypsy.
Leonora is courted by Di Luna but is attracted to Manrico and will soon go with the singer to a room next door where we could see her making out with him. This inflamed the rage in Di Luna. He feels more and more uncomfortable, takes off his shoes, his jacket... the game went too far for his ego to handle... and his father struggles to tame him.
Little by little the line between the personalities they incarnate in the game and those who they are in their real life breaks down and the businessman becomes more and more Di Luna, the singer Manrico, the femme fatale turns into Leonora and the matron of the evening identifies with Azucena... Di Luna drinks more and more and the moment he spills some wine of his shirt clearly indicated he was already drunk and the evening would end bad.
As the drama develops Leonora takes her sunglasses off, her wig too. She shows her real/true self. The game of role-play liberated a woman in her. She confesses that the singer (Manrico) is the man she loves, and she takes great pleasure in the wedding ceremony they play.
Businessman Di Luna cannot bear it any longer and he attacks the singer/Manrico phyically. Manrico punched him back and next we see Di Luna on the floor, checking up his jaw. This is where the part one ends.
At the beginning of Part Two we immediately see that Count di Luna completely lost it, keeps everyone in fear at gunpoint. The game has gone too far and there is no more bouncing back and forth: the drama is now real and takes place in the house.
Di Luna's father recognizes in Azucena a woman who killed his other son and --helped by Di Luna-- they take her to the corner of the big room and tie her to a chair. While she resisted, her wig fell off and she too feels her true face popped up, but tied up to a chair she's completely helpless.
Manrico is at first confused, then enraged (Di quella pira) but incapable to do anything since Di Luna has a gun in the full room. Di Luna "controls" the situation. He is drunk and unpredictable. His father (Ferrando) tried once again to reason him, but this time Di Luna wouldn't listen at all. The gun gave him a limitless power and he shoots his father in the head. Other three in the room are absolutely terrified. [Thriller... where are your popcorns?]
Di Luna then ties Manrico to a chair too and puts him in a closet. This is when Leonora sings D'amor sull'ali rosee. She's heartbroken, terrified, but --aware that only she can solve the situation they are all in-- she decides to talk to Di Luna, to offer herself for the life of the other two. During her aria(s) Di Luna puts Manrico's jacket on, waits for Leonora and stares at the counter full of empty bottles of wine, crisps... Finally Leonora comes and proposes a deal which he accepts -- and accepts to release Manrico.
In the next scene on the right part of the stage we see Di Luna sleeping next to Leonora. Manrico rushes out from his confinement to help Azucena. The doors of the house are finally open and a daily light enters the room. The cadaver of Ferrando is still lying at the center of the stage. Leonora wakes up and joins Manrico and Azucena. Manrico figures out why he was released, why the door of the house is wide open, and unfairly insults Leonora who desperately tries to calm him to spend a few last moments with him before dying of poison she drank before giving herself to Di Luna.
Di Luna then wakes up too, not drunk anymore, but when he comes to join the others he sees Leonora dying in the hands of Manrico, his father lying dead... Sudden anger and he shoots Manrico in the head... twice. Azucena screams in horror and tells him that he made a big error and that it was him who killed everyone including his own brother. On this words Di Luna dies of heart attack and the opera ends with Azucena as the only survivor.
The way the drama swings between play and the real life is absolutely impeccably organized stagewise. Tcherniakov tells us once again that life is theater, and theater is life. This outstanding theatrical work would never be possible without these singers/actors who gave absolutely all they've got. Scott Hendricks proved here once again why I keep saying that he's the best opera artist today. Fantastic singer whose singing is defined by his uncommon acting skills. Without him the show would not be as big. Sylvie Brunet sings wonderfully. Her Azucena is noble and not pathossy. Poplavskaya is definitely a magnificent asset to any production she's in. For the most part she sang very well too, but even a few imperfections made her personality more vulnerable, and more poignant at the same time. Brava! Misha Didyk was obviously very well guided by Tchernyakov and acted exactly what was necessary to make the character look and sound three-dimensional. Furlanetto was remarkable, despite his relatively short singing part. Tcherniakov eliminated Ines, Ruiz and other two little roles. Those parts were sung by either Azucena or Ferrando.
And so finishes one of the most fascinating shows this year for me, staged by the total and absolute genius among the opera directors today. This is regie for intelligent people.
Sadly, during the intermission, some people complained in the walkways that this back-and-forth bouncing from fiction to reality was too confusing (can't you see me eye-rolling!)
In the end, however, there was not a single boo for Tcherniakov -- which must have surprised Dima too. I, obviously, was shouting my lungs out with BRAVO!
|Dmitri Tcherniakov and Marc Minkowski|
A huge thanks to everyone involved in this superb show: to Dima for being the way he is and for loving opera in the way he does, to Peter de Caluwe for rescuing opera from the standards of the HD broadcasts from The Met, to the most wonderful singers/actors for giving life to this all, and of course to Maestro Minkowski, chorus and the orchestra for a splendid operatic evening.
If you can possibly go to see the show live, it is not to be missed! If you cannot, good news is that it will be live broadcast on Mezzo TV next Friday, June 15 starting from 20:00 (cet). I doubt the camera will capture more than 50% of the nuances happening on the stage (all singers/actors are 100% of the time on the stage in this show) but hey...
Production photos are in a separate post. All the photos in this post were taken by yours truly.
|Scott Hendricks and Marina Poplavskaya|
|The only relatively not blurred photo I took with Misha Didyk in it|
|Félicitations à Marc Minkowski et à Sylvie Brunet (in the b/g)|
Video made during the rehearsals can be found here.