The Merchant is two arts documentaries in one – the making of a never performed opera and the extraordinary life story of its charismatic composer.
We chart the journey of the prestigious Bregenz Opera Festival as they prepare for the maiden performance of an opera adaptation of ‘Merchant of Venice’. From first meetings, through design conception, to casting, set build, rehearsals; and finally the first performance. Running alongside this will be the story of the opera’s enigmatic composer, Andre Tchaikowsky, whose life was as dramatic as any Shakespeare play. From escaping the Warsaw Ghetto to touring the world with the great Arthur Rubinstein, to finally forsaking fame to concentrate on composing. Andre faced many obstacles in his life, not least his own Anne-Frank-like existence during the Second World War – in which he lost many family members. His tragic childhood shaped him greatly but fortunately Andre was a true prodigy with extraordinary creative ability, which saw him excel at the piano and composition with little practise. He was also a great polymath and a rebel who refused to do things conventionally, leading to a fascinating life of anecdotes and a journey that led him on a quest for both creative and individual freedom.
As Andre’s story is uncovered, the challenges for Bregenz Festival are enormous; a decreased budget and a highly complex opera with many demands; the design team and director have to make many tough artistic choices that will still deliver enough of a ‘wow’ factor to bring in the crowds and receive plaudits for an opera which David Pountney - the man who commissioned the work for Bregenz - believes to be one of the best modern classical pieces. Andre felt Shylock was a very misunderstood character and wanted to shape him more sympathetically. This balance of Jewish understanding threads through the documentary and allows for a fresh perspective and warmth to the subject.