Dmitri Tcherniakov is an interesting and controversial director. He’s not afraid to take a very radical approach to a work and that method tends to produce uneven results. At it’s best, as in his Berlin Parsifal, it’s extraordinary and sometimes; his Wozzeck for example, interesting but perhaps not exactly revelatory, and,again, sometimes; as in his Don Giovanni, polarising. That said he never does anything merely to shock or show off. There’s always a logic to what he does and that’s certainly true of his quite radical version of Verdi’s Il Trovatore filmed at Brussels’ La Monnaie in 2012.
His jumping off point is that the first third or so of the piece is largely characters telling other characters about what happened in the past. He extends this essentially to the whole opera. The frame is that Azucena has invited Ferrando, the Conte di Luna, Manrico and Leonora to a rendezvous to “process” what happened to them all some years ago. This starts out as a sort of therapeutic role play (in which the five principal characters stand in for the minor characters as necessary) but rather like Sartre’s play, as the layers get peeled off. it gets rawer and the original emotions, anger and jealousy reappear with tragic results.
Like some other Tcherniakov productions, the milieu appears to be the Russian haute bourgeoisie of today. People are perhaps rather overdressed (at least to start with) and there’s a lot of drinking. The Conte in particular hits the bottle pretty hard and that appears to be one factor in his seizing the initiative from Azucena as things unfold. The chorus throughout is off stage. One could pick holes in his treatment of course but then one could pick plenty of holes in the ridiculously convoluted plot of Trovatore in its most traditional version. Tcherniakov’s treatment has the merit of focussing on the characters and their motivations rather than a parade of visual distractions like bare chested gypsies wielding big hammers! So, this production is not for the AMOP crowd but is worth a look for anyone open to different approaches.
Musically it’s interesting. The cast, on paper, looks a bit vocally lightweight for Trovatore but La Monnaie (1200 seats) is not the Met and they cope very well. There is some really good bel canto singing from Marina Poplavskaya as Leonora and Misha Didyk, as Manrico, has the high notes and sometimes sounds quite ethereal in his off stage parts. Scott Hendricks give a frighteningly intense portrayal as the Conte. Sylvie Brunet-Grupposo isn’t a powerhouse contralto in the Dolora Zajick mould but she is dramatically convincing. Giovanni Furlanetto rounds out a very decent ensemble cast.
Marc Minkowski conducts and he also contributes a useful piece on the orchestration to the booklet. He beefs up the bass section, uses some unusual brass and has thought carefully about what Verdi wanted in the percussion section. It’s all quite dramatic and convincing backed up by the excellent La Monnaie orchestra and chorus.
Andy Sommer directed for video and it’ a good effort. Given the claustrophobic nature of the production his use of close ups is easily justified and he’s more generous with longer shots than many directors. It must be said though that these test the picture quality on DVD (Blu-ray is available). The surround sound (Dolby 5.1) sounded fine to me on speakers but a bit constricted on headphones where the stereo track was definitely more detailed. Another argument probably for getting the Blu-ray version which has DTS HD-MA. Subtitles are English, French, German and Dutch.
The booklet is good, if short. Aside from Minkowski’s notes there are useful notes from Tcherniakov as well as a track listing. The synopsis gives a scene by scene parallel account of the canonical version and what Tcherniakov is doing with it. I think this is a great idea. There is also a six minute interview with the director on the disk itself.
All in all an interesting take on a much recorded work but not for the Regie averse.