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June 4, 2011 12:46 am

Verdi: Macbeth, Poulenc: Dialogues des Carmélites

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Verdi

Macbeth

Dmitri Tcherniakov

(BelAir, 2 DVDs)

Poulenc

Dialogues des Carmélites

Dmitri Tcherniakov

BelAir (1 DVD)

 

London is about to get its first blast of Dmitri Tcherniakov, the Russian opera director who scandalised the Bolshoi establishment with his revelatory Eugene Onegin in 2006. What sort of approach should we expect when his staging of Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra opens at ENO next Wednesday? Tcherniakov, who designs his own productions, admits he was “totally at a loss” as to what to do with the same composer’s Macbeth (Paris, 2009). It is set on a bourgeois housing estate where the Macbeths – Dimitris Tiliakos and Violeta Urmana, neither singing with much élan – commit murder to secure leadership of the neighbourhood association. No distinction is made between witches, murderers and populace. Macduff delivers his aria from a playpen, Macbeth bows out in tuxedo and underpants. It’s the sort of show that gives “modern” opera production a bad name.

Poulenc’s tale of the rituals and sacrifices of Carmelite nuns during the French Revolution has an indestructible quality that shines through Tcherniakov’s 2010 Munich staging, set in a soulless authoritarian state but filmed in a way that underlines individual dilemmas and common humanity. It is worth watching for Sylvie Brunet’s doughty Madame de Croissy, Soile Isokoski’s gracious Madame Lidoine and Susan Gritton’s winning Blanche.

Conclusions? First, a lot of unmemorable productions are being immortalised on DVD by film companies trading on the supposed “cult” status of this or that director. Second, Tcherniakov is so determined to reinvent the text that his work has a hit-and-miss quality. When the curtain opens on Simon Boccanegra next week, he has a lot to prove.

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