'Homeless' Brussels opera rides Rachmaninov troika

Fri Jul 10, 2015 7:38am EDT
 
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By Alastair Macdonald

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Shutting its opera house for renovation was hard enough. But Brussels' La Monnaie has raised the bar by choosing an ambitious and rare reworking of Rachmaninov to launch a year of innovation in ad hoc venues.

The consciously Wagnerian vision of "Troika", a first ever staging of the late-Romantic Russian symphonist's only three operatic works as a single evening's performance, has stretched creativity, in design as well as musically, in the restrictive modern confines of the Belgian capital's Theatre National.

And audiences responded with delight to young St. Petersburg conductor Mikhail Tatarnikov and a cast of mainly Russian soloists, including veteran baritone Sergei Leiferkus as the "Skupoi Rytsar", the Covetous Knight, in the pivotal piece.

Tatarnikov, who compared it to mounting a longer Wagner work in a difficult space, teases out echoes among the three very different short operas, with the early work "Aleko" opening and "Francesca da Rimini" the third. For want of a pit, Danish designer Kirsten Dehlholm threads visual pattern and contrast through the three while weaving the orchestra into the sets.

"To be honest, all they have in common is the composer," said Tatarnikov. "That's in fact where the interest and the challenge of the production lies -- to stage three different stories while still creating an arc of tension among them."

For "Aleko", a murderous love triangle Rachmaninov wrote for his 1893 graduation, Dehlholm has the cast move in psychedelic costume arranged across a terrace; "Francesca", relating Dante's murdered and damned lovers, has the same terrace but costumes in abstract black and white. Both, she calls, a "visual score".

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