Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera “The Tsar’s Bride” was shown at the Mariinsky Theater

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera “The Tsar’s Bride” was shown at the Mariinsky Theater


Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera The Tsar’s Bride, staged by Yulia Pevzner at the Bolshoi Theater in 2014, was brought from the capital to the historical stage of the Mariinsky Theater, where it was presented as part of a large exchange tour dedicated to the 180th anniversary of the composer’s birth. Alexei Bogorad was at the controls, while maestro Valery Gergiev watched the performance from a box above the stage. Tells Vladimir Dudin.

Considering the change that has occurred – the appointment of Valery Gergiev as director of the Bolshoi Theater – it is difficult to call these tours, as in the good old days, “exchange”, since both theaters now have the same owner. The last time the Bolshoi came to St. Petersburg from Moscow was with Desyatnikov’s Children of Rosenthal, directed by Eimuntas Nyakrosius, and Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman, directed by Peter Konwitschny, back in 2005, and the capital was then presented with the entire tetralogy of Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelung in the Mariinsky production.

Now the “quality-quantity” relationship in the operating style of the two theaters is reflected in the number of titles of operas sent on tour. The Bolshoi Theater brought the only “The Tsar’s Bride”, which it performed three evenings in a row with different casts of soloists. While the Mariinsky produced three operas – “The Woman of Pskov”, “The Tale of the Invisible City of Kitezh” and “The Night Before Christmas”. Perhaps the Bolshoi could show something else besides “Tsarskaya,” which at one time was presented as a “major renewal” of the pompous costume show of 1955. For example, “Salome” by Richard Strauss directed by Klaus Guth, “Don Carlos” by Verdi from an aesthetic-historical perspective directed by Adrian Noble, or even the enchantingly exciting “Journey to Reims” by Rossini, ingeniously performed by Damiano Michieletto (if the Bolshoi retained the rights to this co-production performance , which is unlikely). But in order to avoid hassle with the logistics and installation of these large complex performances – the technical services of the Mariinsky Theater already do not sleep for days on end – the choice was made on The Tsar’s Bride, especially since this emphasized the monographic character of the tour exchange: four operas, one composer.

It must be admitted that director Yulia Pevzner, a graduate of the Rimsky-Korsakov Music College in St. Petersburg, did not restore the old post-Stalin performance “based on the scenography of Fyodor Fedorovsky” in a museum-like manner. Armed with the texture of these decorations like armor, she found a lot of space in the historical memorial for a bold and uncompromising statement. The director gave the audience of the Mariinsky Theater – and especially the professors of the specialized department of the St. Petersburg Conservatory, which stopped developing many years ago – a master class on how lively, adequate and non-routine can look what is condescendingly considered a “traditional reading” of Russian opera. Pevzner’s directing method in The Tsar’s Bride even recalled the style of one of the most successful modern opera directors, David McVicar, who masterfully works, including in line with historicism. By the way, in the 2000s, it was Yulia Pevzner who was attracted to the Mariinsky to stage Das Rheingold and Die Walküre at a turning point for the tetralogy, when Gergiev abandoned Western directors in favor of Vladimir Mirzoev, who also did not suit him, according to insiders. “incomprehensibility of the concept.”

“The Tsar’s Bride” from Moscow fit almost perfectly into the space of the historical stage of the Mariinsky Theatre, although one could feel how it was bursting with the tower floors and ceilings, which were originally composed for the larger mirror of the Bolshoi Theatre. The power of the direction was captivating with its elaborate integrity, dynamic, end-to-end dramaturgy of the opera, existing on the principle of action-reaction (“action-reaction”), not letting go of attention from beginning to end for a second. The ability to maintain a balance between general and close-ups, slowing down and speeding up, the ability to musically and polyphonically build choral scenes as counterpoint, with alternating main and secondary lines, is a key that is quite suitable for Rimsky-Korsakov’s score. The color scheme of the historical costumes, recreated by the artist Elena Zaitseva, also perfectly interacted with this counterpoint. The unbridled, shoreless games of the guardsmen at Gryaznoy’s feast in the first act looked quite meaningful. When, during the arioso of Martha’s fiancé, boyar Ivan Lykov (who returned from “advanced training courses” from overseas lands), in words that “the Germans themselves walk richly, and lead their wives smartly, and do not keep them locked up, like ours” , the guardsmen jumped up wildly, wanting to rein in the presumptuous one with their fists, Vladimir Sorokin with his “Day of the Guardsman” and “Sugar Kremlin” appeared completely through the performance of the 1950s. Malyuta Skuratov (Nikolai Kazansky) did not hesitate to respond to the general reaction of Gryaznoy’s guests to Lykov’s naive question “But they say that our king is formidable”: “A thunderstorm is the mercy of God… We will sweep away all the rubbish from Orthodox Rus’!”

While the identity of the two historical troupes had not yet been blurred by the merger, the Bolshoi Theater performance showed what the preserved traditions of corporate style are. The already mentioned Ivan Lykov, performed by tenor Konstantin Artemyev, stunningly recalled Lemeshev’s manner with his flowing, sensual open sound soaring above the ground. Mezzo-soprano with strong contralto notes Ksenia Dudnikova in the role of Lyubasha, with all her individuality, clearly evoked a vocal parallel with Tamara Sinyavskaya. Freedom of vocal breathing, luxurious timbre and volume of voice allowed her heroine to express all physicality, shades of dark eroticism, the abyss of passions into which fate had drawn her. In the recent past, Bolshoi prima donna Elena Zelenskaya performed an excellent performance of Domna Saburova. Soprano Olga Seliverstova held high the brand of traditions of her teacher Larisa Rudakova, shimmering pearlily as the “bird of God” in the role of Martha, becoming an emblem of the purity of that will that fatally turned the head of the “wild wind” Grigory Gryazny. The Dostoevsky passions of this character, as if copied from Rogozhin from The Idiot, were very rationally played by Elchin Azizov, whom Mariinsky regulars immediately compared with the brilliant golden galaxy of baritones Sulimsky-Burdenko-Markov.

The orchestra under the baton of Alexei Bogorad during the overture could not hide its overwhelming nervousness, having lost its articulation due to its unfamiliarity with the different acoustics and the crampedness of the Mariinsky orchestra pit. At the first show, his sound retained the dimensions of the open Moscow manner, without having time to adjust its volume. But in this openness, breadth and sound richness there was almost more truth, about which the St. Petersburg resident Rimsky-Korsakov wrote his opera in 1899, on the eve of the “Wolfhound Century”.


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