The Merchant of Venice

André Tchaikowsky’s The Merchant of Venice was written in the years leading up to his premature death in 1982 but, despite interest from ENO in the 1980s, it did not get a full performance until David Pountney decided to stage it at the the 2013 Bregenz Festival with Keith Warner directing.  It’s hard to explain the neglect though Pountney ascribes it some degree as the fate of the emigré  (the composer being a Polish Jew domiciled in the UK).  The Merchant of Venice is a really solid piece.  It’s got all the elements; a strong story, a really interesting but not overly intimidating score and really good writing for voice (it really is singable).  It’s the right length at around two and a half hours and it doesn’t call for unreasonable orchestral or vocal forces.  John O’Brien’s libretto even manages to overcome some of the objections to staging Shakespeare’s play.  While one might consider the Shakespeare piece to be antisemitic, O’Brien’s libretto is much more clearly about anti-semitism.  There’s also a clear homoerotic element in the Antonio – Bassanio relationship and perhaps too in Portia – Nerissa.

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