The trouble with ‘Il Trovatore’

Producing Verdi’s popular opera is a challenging but gratifying labor of love.

‘IL TROVATORE’ (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Michal Znaniecki is no stranger to this part of the world. The Polish-born opera director has overseen quite a few productions here – at the Opera House in Tel Aviv and at Masada under the aegis of the former. Even so, Znaniecki says he is especially looking forward to taking charge of the onstage logistics for the upcoming production of Verdi’s ever-popular Il Trovatore at the Opera House between December 31 and January 16.
The work premiered at the Teatro Apollo in Rome on January 19, 1853. From there, according to British opera scholar and Verdi biographer Julian Budden, it “began a victorious march throughout the operatic world.”
The work was a smash hit from the word go all across the globe. In the three first years following its first airing in Rome, there were 229 productions of Il Trovatore (aka The Troubadour).
Znaniecki sounded enthused, almost to the point of effusiveness, ahead of the Tel Aviv project.
“This is a dream. It is the dream of every director,” he says. “There is the most complicated plot in opera and the most highlight music from Verdi. Everybody knows it, and no one understands it,” he adds with a chuckle.
That might make the director’s job much easier or much more challenging. If no one can really follow the storyline of Il Trovatore then, presumably, Znaniecki can just go with the flow. However if, on the other hand, the director does make an effort to help the audience follow the onstage developments, he has his work cut for him.
Like the true seasoned professional he is, Znaniecki opted for the latter course of action.
“It is my work now to make it easy to understand. This is the very interesting thing when you begin to work with Il Trovatore. You think that you know everything, but afterwards you discover this is not true because it’s really interesting how Verdi was telling the story.”
The director says that while there appear to be plenty of pointers to help audiences make their way along the story continuum, a lot more elucidation is required.
“There is a lot of narration. There are a lot of things that they are telling but not doing,” he says.
There are also some obtuse intervals that don’t help, either.
“You have to find a way to try to explain what happened in between one scene and another, and between one act and another.”
Naturally, Znaniecki will not be alone when it comes to getting Verdi’s message across. The lineup for the production features quality professionals wherever you look.
Israeli Opera musical director Daniel Oren will be on the conductor’s dais, and Ethan Schmeisser will wield his baton in front of the Israeli Opera Choir, and the Israel Symphony Orchestra Rishon LeZion will provide the instrumental substratum.
The all-star team also includes Argentinean tenor Gustavo Porta, who will share the role of Manrico with South Korean-born tenor Alfred Kim; and Bulgarian soprano Svetla Vassileva will perform the role of Leonora, along with Dinara Alieva from Azerbaijan and Latvian-born Israeli soprano Ira Bertman. There is also a wealth of high-quality nonmusical artistic support for the production in the form of Italian set designer Luigi Scoglio, compatriot costume designer Giusi Giustino, and Polish lighting designer Palewicz Bogumil. The vocal and instrumental offerings will also be enhanced by a dramatic video backdrop courtesy of internationally renowned Israeli artist Michal Rovner.
This is not Znaniecki’s first turn at the helm of Il Trovatore, but he says he never tires of the intricacies and challenges that Verdi serves up.
“Every time, you discover that Verdi was making experiments. He was very modern, and he took a lot of risks. So we have the tradition of the opera of Verdi, but every opera of Verdi is something absolutely new, fresh and different,” he says.
That serves to keep the director on his toes, as well as thoroughly engaged. “It is very important to keep those elements in each time you do this opera,” he says.
As Il Trovatore has been around for so long and has been performed so successfully all over the world, it implies that people who go to see this opera are well aware of the storytelling subtleties woven into the fabric of the plot and are probably prepared for a variety of renditions.
Even so, there are limits to how far Znaniecki can mold the raw material.
“I have to be careful because I know maestro Oren, and I know how important his interpretation is. So I don’t’ want to alter it. I don’t want to disturb him. I work with the music. You have some conductors who want to be provocative and some who go crazy, so we [directors] follow them. With maestro Oren, the quality of the music is so strong, and I follow him,” he explains.
An opera director is not only respectful of the conductor and the musical score, but he or she also has to appeal to the paying customer and get them on board as well. That means engaging all the spectator’s senses and addressing the visual side of the venture. In that regard, Znaniecki is delighted to have Rovner on the team to help fill in Verdi’s gaps.
“We don’t use the projection like a background. We use it like something very strong, to tell a part of the story that we don’t see because it’s in the middle of the break or something like that, notes the director. “We help each other with this.”
Sounds like a wonderful package deal.
For tickets and more information about performances of ‘Il Trovatore’: (03) 692-7777;