OPERA NEWS - Il Trovatore
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Il Trovatore

BRUSSELS
Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie
6/24/12

In Review Brussels Trovatore hdl 912
An old story re-told: Tcherniakov’s Il Trovatore in Brussels, with Brunet-Grupposo, Didyk, Giovanni Furlanetto,
Poplavskaya and Hendricks

© Bernd Uhlig 2012

“Tell me the story of Il Trovatorebecame an even more loaded request when applied to Dmitri Tcherniakov’s new production of the Verdi opera at La Monnaie in Brussels, conducted by Marc Minkowski (seen June 24). 

Verdi’s middle-period masterpiece is stronger on dramatic confrontations than on coherent storytelling. Enter Tcherniakov and a concept. In this staging, the five central characters are invited by a contemporary Azucena to a sort of family analysis of past events. This uncomfortable Agatha Christie-style house party takes place behind locked doors in a gloomy hotel. Secondary roles are abandoned and sung by the other principals, who follow the script from Azucena’s printed handouts. The chorus only comments from the pit in this claustrophobic therapy session. Characters relive scenes from the opera, but as the role-playing progresses, Count di Luna becomes increasingly violent. By the final act, playacting ceases, and the tragedy unfolds. 

It was an evening that divided supporters of the rereading from those for whom it was a betrayal. Ultimately, there were losses and gains in equal measure. Tcherniakov rightly sees Azucena as the lynchpin and dramatic motor of the opera. He benefited here from an exceptional performance from Sylvie Brunet-Grupposo. The mezzo’s intense playing of an enthusiastic analyst — complete with encouraging gestures and quizzical looks — had the campy charm of a California lifestyle guru; as the action progressed, she had her ginger wig snatched off to confront the final tragedy with somber dignity. Brunet-Grupposo sang exceptionally, burrowing deep into her chest tones and rising with a lighter opaque sound to a shining top with something of the generosity of the late Rita Gorr. Her invitation to Marina Poplavskaya’s Leonora brought to the stage a damaged-looking young woman of pent-up emotion, tensely hiding behind her dark glasses. Unfortunately some of the character’s tension crept into Poplavskaya’s singing. Her soprano produces some fine sounds, especially in its upper register, but she struggled with the coloratura and the need to produce a bel canto line of matched, even tones. Her commitment to the staging was total: few prima donnas would have agreed to sing the whole of “D’amor sull’ali rosee” while facing a wall. Acoustically, this helped the soprano, and it was visually arresting, but from the audience’s standpoint, Leonora’s secret outpouring remained just that. 

During the Miserere, Poplavskaya interpolated a high note, but her Manrico, Misha Didyk, courageously did without his traditional top Cs in “Di quella pira.” Manrico was presented as a rock-star figure, but Didyk’s singing was very Eastern European in tone, and his metallic outbursts gave little pleasure. Scott Hendricks did better with his crazed, love-obsessed di Luna, but he offered aggressive singing, lacking in poise and legato. Bass Giovanni Furlanetto was a hardworking Ferrando, something of a crusty onlooker who, like the other protagonists, was onstage most of the evening. It was irritating to have the chorus relegated to the pit. There is a place in Verdi for mass choral singing that makes a meaningful dramatic contribution. Confined to the pit, the chorus had no way of expressing physical emotion, and — more important — the device is musically muting. It also identifies a certain sameness that crept into the staging — no changes of decor or place, just a growing intensity. Tcherniakov may have no time for the picturesque, but Verdi was well aware of the visual excitement of anvil-bashing and changes of setting.

Minkowski was a courageous conductor, sympathetic to the singers and finding a grand musical thrust. His tempos were steady but often afflicted by his very personal sense of rubato, drawing ragged but enthusiastic playing from the Monnaie orchestra. spacer

STEPHEN J. MUDGE

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