Are European audiences so jaded by traditional productions of operas in the standard repertoire that they have to have more and more bizarre productions to satisfy them? Was the audience at the 2005 Bregenz Festival so ignorant of the plot of 'Il trovatore' that they applauded spectacular stage effects that completely ignored the narrative line of the opera? Whatever the case, this production by director Robert Carsen is a disaster. It is set on Bregenz's floating stage (in Lake Constance) with a huge multistory set designed to look like a petrochemical plant painted blood red (symbolic, eh?) and spouting fire frequently at every possible location on the set (something about petrochemicals and global warming?). Impressive though all this be visually -- and even there it becomes boring after awhile -- it is completely irrelevant to a plot about gypsies in 15th-century Spain. The convent scene takes place at a petrochemical plant? When Ferrando, in his narrative at the beginning of Act I, asks his fellows to gather around he is several stories up on this monstrous set while his listeners are a good forty feet below him. Gather around? Sprout wings and gather around?
I could to some degree ignore all this if this were a smashingly effective musical performance of the opera. But it's not. The singers are merely OK. The tenor, Carl Tanner as Manrico, starts out with a bellow and a wobble; he does get better by the time 'Ah si, ben mio' comes around. But what's he doing carrying a Kalashnikov? Is that standard issue for troubadors? The Leonore, Iano Tamar, who arrives on the set in a fancy limousine and wearing a slinky party dress, sings her opening 'Tacea la notte placida ... Di tale amor' with a passable spinto soprano but without a trill or terribly accurate coloratura. Count di Luna, sung by Serbian baritone Zeljko Lucic, is considerably better. And his acting is fairly good. The Azucena, Marianne Cornetti, is quite good both musically and dramatically. The Ferrando is a vocal cipher. But as I say, one could ignore the stupid production if this were a world-class musical performance with five top-drawer singers. It is not.
So, if you're interested in a very strange take on this opera, this DVD might be for you. But it certainly is not a candidate for anyone who doesn't already own three or four other videos of the work and is seeking a fresh look. Frankly Robert Carsen's work occasionally delights me, sometimes puzzles me, and sometimes infuriates me. This time it's the latter.