Tchaikowsky’s Merchant of Venice Review
Like the original, André Tchaikowsky’s rendition of The Merchant of Venice is more of a tragedy than a comedy and, in many ways, reflects the life of Tchaikowsky himself. The Anti-Semitism that Tchaikowsky grew up with living in a Jewish Ghetto shines through all of The Merchant’s Christian characters, giving Shylock the sympathy his character needs to make him all the more realistic and conflicting. The audience can see Tchaikowsky bleeding through both Shylock and Antonio as in this performance he is deeply in love with Bassanio, his closest friend.
The additional subtext within the play commenting on love, homosexuality, racism and being oppressed by one’s peers gives the play even greater resonance than it had before. Tchaikowsky has managed to move the audience into complete silence with his commanding music and words. The audience comes away from the production feeling as though they have a greater understanding and opinion on the matters of racism and other controversial topics.
The setting of the play is considerably different to what we expect from a Shakespearean play—instead of Renaissance Venice, the play begins inside a bank with safety deposit boxes covering the walls. The costumes are slightly Edwardian, a big change from the traditional Elizabethan ruffles we are used to seeing. The characters themselves are considerably more liberal than that of many Shakespearean plays. Tchaikowsky’s adaptation gives the characters more visual means of affection to one another—seemingly without needing meaning behind it. The characters are far more open about their desires than one might have thought. It is a shame to think that Tchaikowsky died of cancer before he could ever see his play produced. Had he been here now to witness it, it would have done him proud.
The actors themselves have fantastic voices that harmonise beautifully, especially in The Mayflower where the room makes for a wonderful surround sound, the voices bouncing off the walls from all around the audience. Lester Lynch’s deep and rich voice left the audience in a wondrous stare when he performed his lines. In comparison, Martin Wölfel’s falsetto performance as Antonio sadly came across as rather weak when singing alongside the other actors.
During Act Two the arrival of the Princes who have come to win Portia’s hand are a well timed change of pace from intense music to the more humorous. They are the light hearted relief in the middle of the play that made the audience chuckle at their foolish attempts at choosing the right casket. The Prince of Morocco’s keen use of swords and pistols also made for an entertaining scene, as he was rolling around and jumping all over the maze in Portia’s mansion.
Act Three and its suspense before the climactic end left the audience on the edge of their seats. Whilst the dramatic death of Shylock was not the ultimate ending, it could have been. The audience were fixated on the trial scene where Shylock wished to take a pound of Antonio’s flesh and that scene alone could have left the audience in a state of disbelief had it ended there with Shylock dying. Instead, however, much like the traditional Shakespeare performances, there was a final epilogue where Portia and Nerissa confused and tormented their poor husbands for giving away their rings before finally ending the show.
All in all with its ups, it’s downs, it’s tragic moments and hilarious scenes, Tchaikowsky’s Merchant of Venice is definitely an opera worth seeing.