This was even better than I thought!
01.02.2016 - 06.02.2016
You know the secret of getting an unforgettable experience? - To unexpectedly run into other people’s party )
When I booked myself the Minsk tour as a birthday present, I could not know that Vladimir Petrov, their leading baritone, happens to have his birthday nearly the same day as I do!
The affable, good-natured and very talented Mr. Petrov is a true darling of the million+ city of Minsk – audience, critics, fellow singers alike – so everyone in the theatre was in high spirits.
The cloakroom ladies were all smiles – to do them justice I’ve got to say they are always very accommodating.
The producers had contracted the ‘Nightingale of Tashkent’ – the young and promising tenor Ramiz Usmanov (his Navoi Opera is a real architectural wonder, but that's another story).
The hero of the day presented his own pupil – the budding soprano Maria Shabunia as Gilda.
Even the terrific mezzo Oxana Volkova took a leave from the Metropolitan where she appears as Olga in Eugene Onegin, vis-a-vis the great star Anna Netrebko, for a cameo role of Maddalena.
The president and the government sent flowers and greetings. The Ministry of Culture lady in a knitted dress of vague colour held a speech in Belorussian – that was the only disappointment. (Not the language, I mean, but the shy easy-care attire. Surely Belorussians are proud of their high-quality knitwear, but a classic tailored suit would be more up to the occasion, IMHO)
The theatre management provided cameras, recording the whole performance from various angles – you will see one of the cameramen in my photos; hopefully they will have it on the theatre’s YouTube channel if they ever get one.
P.S. You know what? I have just found the whole piece, 2 hours on YouTube – but it’s not the theatre’s official channel. You can find it by googling YouTube for ‘Rigoletto – Minsk’. It’s the same production, but an altogether different cast.
Mise-en-scène, stage and costumes design
They are defiantly traditional here in Minsk, even with an Estonian/Finnish director/ designer team. Their Duke looks as an Italian Duke should, not some sort of a post-war Mafioso, and so do all other characters. Surely it takes a lot of money to make the proper period costumes and stage settings – apparently Minsk Opera is heavily subsidized by the Belorussian state. They make very good use of the stage machinery, too – everything moves, rotates and impresses the audience.
Duke of Mantua - Ramiz Usmanov
I was a bit worried about the Duke – finding a reliable tenor is not an easy task these days, but Mr Usmanov was at his best. Trust me, folks – I switch on Jussi Björling whenever I am in bad mood, which happens pretty often these days, and the Swedish tenor is reckoned as one of the best operatic Dukes of all times!
I’ve heard Mr Usmanov elsewhere – sometimes he may be a little abrupt, but here he was clearly swept away by general inspiration and delivered a top sound.
Besides, he had done quite a service to his colleagues on stage: his ‘Questa o quella’ comes just a couple of minutes after the beginning, and, when sung well (and that’s not an easy job), it gives an impact to the whole night.
Gilda - Maria Shabunia
As far as I remember, this was her first appearance. Remarkably, I did not notice any qualms or diffidence; Miss Shabunia sang with genuine feeling, unaffectedly and movingly. And how wonderful she looks in her blue beret!
Maddalena – Oxana Volkova
Here I could feel at ease, Ms Volkova is the true star. Shame I did not know she was opening the season in Nice Opera when I was there… And she looks as good as she sings!
Sparafucile – Oleg Melnikov (?)
What could I have done with the theatre bill?.. I don’t remember every name, but judging from my photos this is exactly Mr. Melnikov, a real mountain of a man )
He, too, had a massive drive. I wasn’t really happy with his sound as Konchak and Gremin earlier – more variety would do him a lot of good; but here he was 100% fit. A dark-coloured voice surely becomes that certified arch-scoundrel and assassin.
Giovanna – Marina Aksyontova (?)
Again, not sure, but from the photos I consider that was she.
Ms Aksyontova has a phenomenal voice, deep and dazzling mezzo, close to contralto - ‘milk-and-honey’, as they used to say in old times!
I don’t see why she is not any laureate or honoured artist. True, she is not a super-model; apparently, for that reason she sings mostly ‘nannies’ and ‘best friends’, only seldom appearing as Azucena or Madame Arvidson (that’s the Swedish original for Ulrica in ‘Un ballo in maschera’). I must definitely catch next time she comes out in any big part.
Star of the night
That was, of course, the birthday boy Vladimir Petrov ))
Rigoletto is considered Mr.Petrov’s signature part. At first it surprised me: Mr Petrov is blessed with a full, resonant and very aristocratic baritone – sort of too good for such a pathetic and nailed down fellow as that buffoon is! Giorgio Germont, Count Anckarström, or Tchaikovsky’s Onegin and Prince Jeletsky appear to be more his way. (Search YouTube and Vladimir Petrov + Minsk opera)
With Scene 2, however, I think I understood the stage directors’ idea. Apparently they wanted to say that no one is immune to overwhelming circumstances, and for an originally shrewd and fairly decent person the life a professional clown is particularly ugly. Their hunchback is not really a hunchback, it’s his ‘professional disguise’, together with that dreadful foolscap. When he is at home with his daughter he sports a very neat black camisole – the one you can see in my photos. It happens to be his job to make himself a fool and an object of pity and contempt. I don’t know if the Finnish director meant it, but I immediately remembered 1990s, when nuclear physicists turned into taxi-drivers, and university professors had to sweep the floors in a restaurant for food. It wasn’t poverty - humiliation became the true cause of premature death for many of my very talented colleagues who just could not get over those new ‘Kings who had Fun’…
Damn wise it was of Mr. Petrov to move here from Omsk after the perestroika, or else he could have well found himself singing at an oligarch’s villa – in the best case scenario.
Backstage tour - remind me to tell you!