John Plant, composer

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Eating my words

Posted by John Plant on February 20, 2021 at 3:35 PM

It is ten months since my last post!

I have been feeling lucky to be in Nova Scotia, and to have a large unwieldy challenging inspiring project to keep me occupied - intensely occupied! - during these difficult days and months. The project outlined in my April 2019 blog is very much alive, but its name has changed: it is now The Heart of Things, and I am working on the eleventh of its twelve scenes.

 

The pleasures of eating one's words...

Specifically, those I posted on September 6, 2016, concerning a production of Verdi's Il trovatore, which I had read about, but not seen. I cited an article in Diapason, in which "Christian Merlin is encouraged by stagings whose 'dramaturgical viewpoint is so strong that a plot which we considered superficial suddenly begins to speak to us,' such as Tcherniakov's staging of Verdi's Il trovatore - which is transformed into 'a role-playing game for idle members of the bourgeoisie.'  That anyone could experience Il trovatore as superficial takes my breath away; that a work of such intense, committed passion and vitality could somehow be improved by turning it into a role-playing game is beyond my grasp."

 

Well, I have now seen Tcherniakov's production, thanks to Marquee TV, and I hereby eat my words. Well, most of them. I still am astonished that anyone could find Il trovatore superficial. Tcherniakov clearly did not ; his production is the first one I have seen which does something like justice to the emotional and dramatic intensity which blazes through every page of this glorious score. He takes Verdi very seriously indeed; this production is driven by an unerring sense of what matters in this opera. It all takes place in a single room, and we never see the chorus: this is undoubtedly a loss, but the sacrifice is justified by the gain in concentrated intensity. All the lines of the minor characters (Inès, Ruiz) are taken by principals; this reinforces Tcherniakov's initial role-playing scenario. As Inès and Ruiz exist solely as foils for Leonora and Manrico, this actually chimes quite nicely with the director's vision.

 

What M. Merlin does not tell us is that the concept is rather one of a role-playing therapy that goes tragically wrong. All notion of role-playing vanishes quickly, as the characters are inhabited and even possessed by their 'roles.' The paradoxical result is that this story, so often mocked for its plethora of improbable coincidences, becomes utterly convincing, and the deep tragedy arising from the irreconcileable desires and obsessions of its characters is searing, inevitable, and utterly gripping. It is not a pretty production, to say the least, and I would not recommend it as one's first exposure to this opera. But for those who know and love Il trovatore, and are willing to be ejected from their comfort zone, it is as powerfully moving a production of a Verdi opera as any I have seen.

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