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By this Author: MuscoviteVT

Spartacus: Minsk Opera

You’ve got to see this, folks!

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Spartacus 1


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‘Spartacus’ is one of the flagship ballet productions in Minsk – the other being ‘Romeo & Juliet”, both staged by the renown choreographer Valentin Jelizariev.

Patience, this is going to be a long story…
I was sitting in the hotel Sputnik, thinking what to do on my first day in Minsk. There were local news on TV, a film about Minsk Opera followed (very timely!). Jelizariev spoke about his 30-years’ long career as the head of the Minsk ballet; he mentioned among other things that ‘Spartacus’ seldom appears on the stage these days, and that’s a shame indeed.
I took notice. That night I watched ‘Romeo & Juliet’ with Anton Kravchenko as the mighty arrogant Tybald. I thought right away that with this impressive physique he would make an exceptional Spartacus, the leader of the oppressed.

Two years passed…
Last winter I gave myself a birthday present - a do-it-yourself theatre trip to Minsk Opera. It’s no problem to buy tickets on-line, by the way – you are redirected to the ticket agency ‘Kvitki (translated as exactly ‘tickets’), and with a commission of just 1 (one!) euro you have a very smooth transaction, you print your tickets – et voila! – you are in.
I’ll take another time to write about the theatre itself, as it is very much worth a separate review. Now to this outstanding production.

Choreography
Modern and classic at the same time, that is not repulsively modern, with ugly turns and unnatural positions, but something new and fresh, humane and profoundly touching. And it’s completely different from both wider known interpretations by the Mariinsky’s Leonid Jacobson and Jury Grigorovich of the Moscow Bolshoi.
It’s hardly a surprise that Spartacus is a national success here. Do you know that Aram Khachaturian, the composer, was first drawn to this story in December 1941, when the enemy was literally at our gate – in the outskirts of Moscow? The frightening brassy Roman march, the traditional hand-in-the-air salutations, the invader troops killing and enslaving locals – the ballet was first staged in Minsk in 1980, and all this could not but revive the fresh memories of the Second World War, when Belarus lost 25 to 30% of its pre-war population. The costume designers did not have to resort to cheap tricks like dressing the cast in nazi uniforms; it is the very air, the gestures and mimic that speaks.

Spartacus – Anton Kravchenko
Mr.Kravchenko was definitely the star of the night; he was just born for this part. Taller and bigger than most ballet dancers, he makes a very realistic figure as a popular leader, towering over his fellow rebels and Roman soldiers alike. On top of that he shows an undeniable charisma, in ‘war’ as much as in ‘peace’ scenes.

Crass – Oleg Jeromkin
This Roman warrior looks more vain and lusty than mighty and threatening, but altogether very skillfully danced

Frigia – Liudmila Khitrova
Ballerinas are supposed to have rather reduced weight, otherwise how would male dancers lift them; but Miss Khitrova looked so slim and even fragile that one could start being worried if it were not for her perfect dancing technique. Her duets with the tall and well-built Mr. Kravchenko looked especially moving, you can see it on the main photo of the theatre booklet

Gladiators
They have democratic ways here – today you play the leading part, tomorrow you are a support. One of the four gladiators was Jegor Azarkevich – I wrote about him in ‘The Sleeping Beauty’ piece. Another was Takatoshi Machiama, a Japanese fellow – I do not know how he found himself so far from his Pacific ocean islands, but apparently it made sense, as he is already a prize-winner of several International competitions.

The orchestra under the theatre’s leading ballet conductor Nikolai Koliadko played with inspiration and did credit to Aram Khachaturian’s powerful and penetrating music.

P.S.
I just got to know that choreographer Jelizariev will be 70 next October. The theatre is staging a great festival to his honour, while he is planning to edit his legendary ‘Spartacus’ to better suit the new dancers. I may be one of the last spectators of the old one!

Posted by MuscoviteVT 05:44 Archived in Belarus Tagged art people parties night japan travel theatre dance music opera ballet rome beauty minsk belarus theater entertainment classic fan composer khachaturian spartacus conductor Comments (0)

The Sleeping Beauty: Minsk Opera

The Sleeping Beauty at Minsk Opera is a real feast of bright colours. They certainly don’t spare funds on culture here.

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I did not really mean to book ‘The Sleeping Beauty’ this time; the lovely fairy-tale came as sort of a bonus. No, they don’t give away tickets for free, though a good seat in the stalls for some 10 euro is indeed a ‘gift of the magi’ )). It’s just that I was specially flying into Minsk to catch their ‘Spartacus’ which for some reason doesn’t come on stage very often; and ‘the Beauty’ happened the same weekend. A very timely coincidence, they had really made my day!
Production
Thank God, ballet is much more fortunate than opera. I had witnessed so many ‘modernized’ Aidas, Carmens, Rigolettos and Onegins, that a sound traditional production looks like a real blessing! Not that their long-serving chief choreographer Valentin Elizariev - he is the one who adopted this Marius Petipa’s ballet for the modern stage - is shy of new trends. Indeed, he is said to be the one to introduce certain ice-dancing elements into the classic ballet, I have noticed quite a few.
Stage
What you will see in the photos is just a bleak reflection. I can never get used to this theatre luxury in a country with a fairly modest GDP. They have a lot of very elaborate stage props; a special colourful backdrop accompanies each scene, lovely act drops fall after each act – to complement the majestic red main curtain.
Costume design
The best fitting word here will be ‘bright’ – bright as clever, and bright as eye-catching. They certainly spare no money on velvet, silk and gold tissue! As you remember, the story goes throughout a century: Princess Aurora goes to sleep, and wakens up about 100 years later. That gave the costume designers a good way to show their skills – the first act is staged as the 17th century, sort of ‘Les Trois Mousquetaires‘ style - you know, plum hats, etc.; while the second act comes as the dainty 18th century with its heavily powdered wigs – Prince Désiré must have had it really hard to jump in such goods and chattels!
Cast
Princess Aurore – Irina Eromkina
She was very skilled and charming, as one can expect of the country’s ‘honoured artist’. Together with her husband (I guess) Oleg Eromkin they make a prominent ballet couple here.
Fée des Lilas – Anna Fokina
That was one of her first performances, as far as I can understand – came out quite up to the mark.
Fée Carabosse, the ‘bad lady’ – not much dancing, but very, very expressive. I guess the part was made specifically for the aged but still apt ballerinas. Forgot the name, sorry!
Les fées at large – there were five of them, the one in yellow was particularly lovely, I guess she was the ‘Canari qui chante’
There was a good deal of minor characters – but all of them with their own specialty; of these I mostly remember Konstantin Geronik as the Blue Bird
And the star of the night:
Prince Désiré - Egor Azurkevich
Folks, bookmark this name! looks like they’ve got sort of Hogwarts here - with this magic gift to hover in the air he will certainly go far. I’ve got to say that the Minsk Ballet College is famous for its graduates - male dancers, the one you may know is the Moscow Bolshoi étoile Ivan Vassiliev, celebrated for his powerful jumps.
P.S. For some reason the Minsk Opera has no just one common standard for the cast bills, which is probably for the better - you can keep these diverse little booklets sold fairly cheap at the entrance as lovely inexpensive souvenirs.

Posted by MuscoviteVT 06:51 Archived in Belarus Tagged art night travel theatre dance music ballet beauty minsk belarus theater entertainment classic tchaikovsky Comments (0)

Nice Opera is hot stuff

Literally!

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[img=http://photos.travellerspoint.com/877885

The building is beautiful but old and badly needs air-conditioning (among other modern fixtures)
You start to realize why ladies kept fans and dressed lightly in good old times, it's so stuffy that you can only
hope to survive through three, let alone four acts.

P.S.
Been there again - nothing changes. Even the conductor had to leave his tails at home and sport a light shirt
instead.
Honestly, folks, if you positively want to get a limp of culture, be sure you have something made of natural
fabrics on you, otherwise you'll make a real-life Mimi or Violetta.

Posted by MuscoviteVT 01:58 Archived in France Tagged art parties night travel theatre music opera ballet beauty bass theater entertainment classic sing soprano baritone tenor mezzo Comments (5)

‘The Sleeping Beauty’ at ‘The Moscow Classic Ballet'

Kasatkina-Vasilyov's company is mostly known under the brand ‘The Moscow Classic Ballet', and they live up to their name – classical productions appear to be their stronger point. Their 'Beauty' was really beautiful :))

Kasatkina-Vasilyov's company is mostly known under the brand ‘The Moscow Classic Ballet', and they live up to their name – classical productions appear to be their stronger point. Their 'Beauty' was really beautiful :))
Good for them - my encounter with their 'Spartacus' a couple of months ago was a real catastrophe!
Natalia Kasatkina and Vladimir Vasilyov are former Bolshoi dancers, and their company is the former ‘Young Ballet’, an off-spring of Igor Moisseev’s Folk Dance Company since as long ago as 1966, so you can expect quite a tradition here.

Mise-en-scène
As said, it's classic – for the most part. And the best one, too. As long as they stick to the good old Monsieur Marius Petipa, everything is perfect. Once they start trying to ‘keep up with the times’ and entertain the public – make the royal couple, who normally sit quietly on their thrones, do some funny tricks, it looks comic, and more comic than they wanted, IMHO. Besides, the stage director could not resist the temptation to make full use of the modern facilities of the Kremlin Palace and filled the stage with smoke, as if it were a hard-rock concert.
Kasatkina-Vasilyov have no own orchestra – no wonder, as they haven't got an own stage either, and have to migrate between the tiny Novaya Opera hall sitting 750 pax and the Kremlin Palace, which is a real hangar of a concert-hall, with 6 000 seats. How they manage to adapt the same production to these two completely different venues, I have not the slightest idea – I hate to say it, but I suspect they don’t!

Stage and costumes design
The set design was a bit modest for such a spacious stage, which may be well accounted by the fact that they are guests here. But the costumes had really caught my eye – bright, joyous and rich, absolutely splendid. Created by Elizaveta Dvorkina.

Orchestra
The company traditionally cooperates with the Novaya Opera orchestra, whose tempo here appeared sort of slow, in fact, that what I can say of both the orchestra and the dancers. Or maybe it's me and my ears...

Cast
Princess Aurora – Marina Rzhannikova
To say that Ms. Rzhannikova's dance is charming would be an understatement! It's voluptuously seducing thanks to her somewhat ampler shape than is usual with ballet dancers. With the opera glasses – strongly recommend, the cloakroom ladies rent them just for 200 roubles – I could follow all her movements, full of dignity and grace, and even the glance she would now and then cast at her devoted Prince. You wouldn't call this lady a princess, she is clearly a ruling empress in full ballet might!

Lilac Fairy – Alyona Podavalova
The part suits her perfectly. Ms. Podavalova is taller than most of her colleagues, and a 'ballet prince' might have a bit of a problem carrying her around the stage. As a 'fairy' she has a lot of independent dance which is a pleasure to watch.

Prince Desire – Artyom Khoroshilov
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Here, too, they had hit the target. I saw Mr. Khoroshilov as Spartacus, and that was a total disaster! I thought there and then, however, that with his elegant gait, noble poise and generally melancholic attitude Mr. Khoroshilov would make a good classic 'ballet prince'. Well, he did, though not to the extent I hoped. The part of Prince Desire is not so awfully demanding, IMHO – he serves mostly as a pedestal for Princess Aurora, only staging a few leaps and pirouettes in the last act. And mind you - even that left him visibly breathless! An aerobics class would do the vulnerable Mr. Khoroshilov a lot of good :))

Fairy Carabosse – Ekaterina Khapova
That was a pleasant surprise. Carabosse is usually presented as an aged witch and often performed by male dancers. Here she is sort of a 'femme fatale' with very daring leaps and no less daring red-and-black outfit.

Star of the night
Blue Bird – Nikolai Chevychelov
I thought so. Mr. Chevychelov is clearly the star of the company. I had seen him as Crassus in 'Spartacus' – a perfectly worthless production, it let the audience admire Mr. Chevychelov's charisma, but hardly did any justice to his skills. Here as the Blue Bird he is literally flying around the stage! Shame indeed he had not thought of getting a stage name – to pronounce his own is quite a quest in any language ))

Special note
African youngster – Vladimir Yakovlev
This is a very small part, but Mr. Yakovlev' wild leaps and loops had made him a darling with the audience.

P.S.
If I don’t review The Kremlin Palace (formerly – of Congresses) in the nearest future, here is what you – the audience – need to know. Unlike the old theatres, which may be hot and stuffy, the Kremlin Palace is vigorously air-conditioned, at some point it may feel a bit chilly, a light scarf would be very appropriate.
P.P.S.
Come early – there is a frightful queue, and several security lines – it’s the Kremlin, folks!

Posted by MuscoviteVT 02:17 Archived in Russia Tagged art night moscow theatre dance ballet beauty russia classic tchaikovsky Comments (2)

Rigoletto: Minsk Opera

This was even better than I thought!

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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.

Cast

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.

Special note

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.

P.S.
Backstage tour - remind me to tell you!

Posted by MuscoviteVT 07:33 Archived in Belarus Tagged art night theatre music opera minsk belarus bass theater fan dignity soprano rigoletto baritone tenor mezzo Comments (3)

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