Edinburgh Festival Warns Operagoers About Bieito's Bloody Production of Trovatore
Thursday, July 29, 2004
The Herald [Glasgow]
By Phil Miller
It features a man being set on fire, torture, blood-splattered massacre and hints of necrophilia.
This summer's most controversial performance in Edinburgh is not a headline-grabbing play at the Fringe or a sensational movie at the film festival ó but a traditional opera staged at the Edinburgh International Festival.
The production of Verdi's Il trovatore has been directed by Calixto Bieito, one of the most daring and shocking directors in theatre, and was described at its first run in Germany last year as an "orgiastic celebration of violence and horror".
The festival has officially warned customers to expect "scenes of a graphic nature" at its single performance at the Edinburgh Festival Theatre.
Such a description may be an understatement ó insiders have described it as having acres of "blood, gore and torture" and a scene where a man's genitals are electrocuted.
However, Brian McMaster, the director of the festival, said the opera ó performed by the Hanover State Opera on August 23 and conducted by Mihkel Kutson ó has already sold out and, because of the advance warnings, he is not expecting any audience "walk-outs" prompted by previous Bieito productions.
Mr. McMaster said the opera is one of the most important productions at the festival and added: "When I first saw it some people ran for the exits, but on the other hand a lot more people were cheering and cheering, and it is one of the most exciting things I have ever seen in an opera house."
Bieito, a 41-year-old Catalonian, is known for his intense productions ó he made his name in Scotland with The Barbaric Comedies in 2000, which featured torture and rape.
Mr. McMaster said of Il trovatore : "There is a lot of blood, it is incredibly violent, but so is the text and if Verdi could see this production he would think it was fantastic.
"Theatre is not always supposed to be comfortable, it's also exciting and thrilling, a vibrant evening of theatre for an art form, opera, which is often described as boring. Some people may be repelled by the violence but that's what the opera is about, and in fact I think Bieito has a deeply moral approach."
In Bieito's version of the opera, which deals with "delirium and massacre", he moved the action from castles and court scenes to an abandoned factory set close to the sea.
Bieito has described it as a "warehouse of ghosts, a kind of tomb for the living who are eaten up by hatred and vengeance". He added: "What interests me is the traces of evil left behind by war. The seed of evil which changes the characters into sick people, pushed by hate into a vengeance which ends in massacre."
He has also changed the characters from noblemen and gypsies to "members of the lumpen-proletariat, in the true Marxist meaning of the term ó outcasts and criminals".
For example, Leonora, the principal female love interest in the opera played by Francesca Scaini, is a prostitute addicted to barbiturates, with a tendency towards suicidal thoughts.
Manrico, the troubadour, is an aspiring Elvis-like singer, and Azucena, the gypsy, has become an old whore. In the final moments Azucena appears in a cell, bloody and hysterical, smearing herself with excrement.
Bieito caused outrage in Berlin this month with his violent and sexually explicit version of Mozart's Abduction from the Seraglio.
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