Bondage Party, Group Therapy Boost Brussels ‘Trovatore’

A bejeweled gypsy in a black lace gown silently greets five visitors in a vast, crimson-walled apartment. She locks the door. An orchestra rumbles.

So begins Dmitri Tcherniakov’s starkly theatrical new production of Verdi’s “Il Trovatore” at La Monnaie/De Munt in Brussels.

You may recall the plot features a demented gypsy who accidentally baked her own baby, and two brothers who don’t know they are brothers and duel over the soprano.

The gypsy woman, for reasons that become clear at the very end, is the only one who knows the truth.

Tcherniakov starts his staging with what amounts to a role- playing therapy session -- the singers even read their parts from sheets of paper -- designed to elucidate the past.

The deconstructed opera is organized into tableaux, each preceded by a text introducing the scene, which is projected above the stage with surtitles in French, Dutch and English -- welcome to Brussels.

The gypsy Azucena (Sylvie Brunet-Grupposo) dominates the first half of the production as she prods the unveiling of memories.

Raw emotions and cruel secrets behind this odd reunion start emerging, and the characters end up playing for real. The son who has inherited his father’s title as Count (Scott Hendricks) takes over as a violent, bondage-obsessed fiend.

Madre, Mia Madre!

One person is left standing at the end, and it’s not him.

Marc Minkowski, conducting his first Verdi opera, elicits a lean yet moving performance from the house orchestra that suits the staging and shows a Baroque expert’s respect for nuance.

The singers are a disparate bunch. Hendricks is a forceful, obsessed Count and a fine actor. Marina Poplavskaya, looking like a 1960s Courreges model in knee-high white boots, is spirited, though unsubtle and chilly as Leonora.

Misha Didyk overdoes the vibrato and sounds strained as Manrico, the Count’s long-lost brother. Brunet-Grupposo, with a rich, fluid mezzo, intrigues as Azucena. Giovanni Furlanetto, as the military aide Ferrando, is discreetly solid.

From where I sat, they all sounded too loud.

This is definitely the director’s show. He takes liberties with the libretto and indulges in superfluous conceits, such as having Leonora sing her star aria facing a wall, with her back to the audience (OK, her lover is imprisoned behind the wall).

Still, Tcherniakov succeeds in renewing the dramatic strength of “Trovatore.” The audience roared approval.

Photographer: Bernd Uhlig/La Monnaie/De Munt via Bloomberg

Scott Hendricks as Count di Luna and Marina Poplavskaya as Leonora in "Il Trovatore.'' The opera runs through July 6. Close

Scott Hendricks as Count di Luna and Marina Poplavskaya as Leonora in "Il Trovatore.''... Read More

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Photographer: Bernd Uhlig/La Monnaie/De Munt via Bloomberg

Scott Hendricks as Count di Luna and Marina Poplavskaya as Leonora in "Il Trovatore.'' The opera runs through July 6.

Rating: ***.

“Il Trovatore,” sponsored by Belfius Bank SA/NV, is at La Monnaie/De Munt, Brussels, through July 6. Information: http://www.lamonnaie.be.

(Jim Ruane is an editor-at-large for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

What the Stars Mean:
****        Do Not Miss
***         Very Good
**          Good
*           So-So
(No stars)  Avoid

Muse highlights include Warwick Thompson on London theater, Lewis Lapham on history, Zinta Lundborg’s New York weekend and Jeremy Gerard on New York theater.

To contact the writer on the story: Jim Ruane, in Brussels, at jruane1@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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