Saturday, March 2, 2024

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    “Seeing Music” Through the Pandemic Blockade

    The See Music Festival is one of the few large theater companies that continue to stand on its feet. Is that the “Golden Mask” is still resisting the circumstances, intending to present its prizes on November 10. “Territory” more or less safely finished a short three-week run on November 3, but NET (“New European Theater”) was postponed indefinitely, “Moscow Autumn” (review of the capital’s composers) too. Against this background, the visit to the capital of the St. Petersburg Opera Theater with two large performances can be called a real feat.

    Of course, “See Music” – the show, held for the fifth autumn in a row by the Association of Musical Theaters of Russia – has not developed its program in full this year. Honor and praise to those who were able to come – this is the Astrakhan opera with “The Inspector General” by Vladimir Dashkevich, the opera of the Komi Republic with “Love Drink” and “Princess of the Circus”, St. Petersburg “Carambol” with “Big Secret for a Small Company” by Sergei Nikitin, Ivanovsky musical theater with “Robin Hood” by Evgeny Zagota, Donetsk and Volgograd “Tsaritsyno” opera (both brought Carmina Burana) … But already during the holiday, which started on September 23, theaters from Samara, Saratov, Krasnoyarsk, Seversk canceled their performances one after another, Republic of Karelia, from foreign, but also not alien to us, Uzbekistan … Bashkir Opera has moved its shows online,

    “But we are Leningraders, and we are accustomed to breaking through all sorts of blockades,” Yuri Alexandrov, the leader of the “St. Petersburg Opera,” which broke through to the capital, addressed the Moscow audience from the stage of the Helikon-Opera, predictably winning applause.

    However, the main ovation still had to be earned – by the performances themselves. And the residents of St. Petersburg succeeded quite well.

    First of all – the repertoire: on the one hand, Dargomyzhsky and Donizetti are undoubtedly the greatest composers, on the other, I can hardly be mistaken in defining what was brought as an absolute rarity.

    “Esmeralda” – until now, I confess with shame, only from the conservatory course in the history of music remembered that Dargomyzhsky’s list of operas contains such a youthful work. But only now I heard for the first time – and I was convinced how interesting and promising it is.

    Starting with the overture – of course, it cannot be said that it was completely unusual for its time, rather the opposite. This is such a pure example of musical romanticism that one can safely speak of it: Dargomyzhsky was the son of his time and carefully studied the latest achievements of European romantic music from Weber to Meyerbeer and, of course, the great compatriot – Glinka. And in the future, the intermissions, permeating the opera with a symphonic dotted line, line up in a kind of counterpoint to the main action, either plunging into romance sadness, then delighting with the dancing courage, then captivating the ear with a colorful chorus of French horns, then surprising with the watercolor sound of strings divided into many parts.

    However, from the vocal side, everything is very encouraging. Frollo’s weekend aria is luxuriously demonic, the multi-figured second picture (with the unsuccessful abduction of Esmeralda) is masterfully constructed, and in the aria of Quasimodo, who ended up in prison, one can even hear the features of Boris Godunov’s future monologues (Mussorgsky did not hide that he considered Dargomyzhsky to be his teacher). The confident hand of the musical playwright is palpable in the studio stretch of the finale of the first act and in the central scene in terms of meaning – the duet-collision of Esmeralda and Frollo. And the finale with mourning for the dead Phoebus really, in Russian (no matter how paradoxical it sounds in connection with the plot of Hugo), “in Glinka” grabs the heart. Here she fully developed the capabilities of her light soprano Yevgeny Kravchenko (Esmeralda). But also the temperamental baritone Yuri Borshchev (Frollo),

    But Donizetti, in addition to an even earlier leap to mastery than Dargomyzhsky’s (the composer was only 22 years old at the time of writing “Peter I, or The Incredible Adventures of the Russian Tsar”), struck an interest in the Russian theme, unusual for a European of the early 19th century. And for all the fantastic nature of the situation described in the opera (what kind of brother of Catherine I, Karl, separated from his sister in childhood, was suddenly found in the Livonian wilderness, what kind of daughter of the late Mazepa Anetta began to hang around the neck of this carpenter with royal blood in her veins?) the composer – Russian characters, above all the tsarist with his steepness, but also breadth, and humor, and even cordiality Donizetti grasped aptly.

    But most importantly – what amazing music came to life under the baton of Alexander Goikhman! The overture, although it clearly speaks of the influence of “The Barber of Seville” and “The Thief Magpies” by Rossini, is unlikely to yield to the creations of the senior master in terms of brightness of images and contrasts – but was written only a year or three later than those world masterpieces. A generous scattering of melodies, again, the skill of ensembles and starts, the virtuosity of writing, which also requires virtuosity of performance – what is one area of the Magistrate, this magnificent example of a buffoon bass tongue twister … All this gave the musical team of the theater a chance to really show off their capabilities – bass Andrey Zemskov (Peter), and the master of characteristic colors bass Gevorg Grigoryan (Master, in other words, the city judge), and two virtuoso sopranos – Karolina Shapovalova (Anetta) and, in particular, Julia Ptitsyna (hotel owner Madame Fritz), and mezzo Larisa Pominova (Ekaterina), and buffoon baritone Yegor Chubakov (usurer Firman). Tenor Denis Zakirov (Karl) showed possession of a real bel canto, easily flying up to the upper C.

    And yet what pleased “Peter I …” was the stage decision. If about “Esmeralda” the author of this article has nothing to say, either plus or minus (predictable gothic decorations, high relations on the mezzanine of the cathedral/castle, and bloody showdowns in the lower tier), then Donizetti’s humor is directed by Yuri Alexandrov and artist Vyacheslav Okunev answered with adequate gags. For example, presenting the crowd (villagers, nobles, and even the Tsar’s guards) as such humanoid chickens: firstly, I repeat, this is a rural wilderness, and secondly, with a large number of brains per capita, none of these categories shines. In addition, in the play, Italian speech is very funny and mixed with a sense of proportion – in arias and Russian – in recitatives, and also in the colloquial role of a captain with a typical Russian surname Khondidiski, who, however, turns out to be

    It seems to me that it is not a shame to take such work on tour not only to Moscow but on occasion also to Donizetti’s homeland, where, I suspect, not everyone also remembers that in the huge track record of their national composer (“Peter …” is only the third his 68 operas) there is also such a gem with a Russian accent.

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