Formula of success
[b]National Academic Bolshoi Opera and Ballet Theatre hosts 3rd Minsk International Christmas Opera Forum[/b]The fest was truly bright — bringing joy and spiritual view on the world. Moreover, it well suited the Bolshoi Theatre’s interior decorations which re-opened (after a major three year reconstruction) on March 8th, 2009. On entering the building, you can’t but smile — opening your soul to the beauty which sparkles in crystal of the huge chandeliers and mirrors. Even in the cloak-room you would feel yourself a participant of a wonderful solemn holiday...
The fest was truly bright — bringing joy and spiritual view on the world. Moreover, it well suited the Bolshoi Theatre’s interior decorations which re-opened (after a major three year reconstruction) on March 8th, 2009. On entering the building, you can’t but smile — opening your soul to the beauty which sparkles in crystal of the huge chandeliers and mirrors. Even in the cloak-room you would feel yourself a participant of a wonderful solemn holiday...
In describing the recent Christmas Forum, the greatest admiration rules: truly, the event was the most wonderful and impressive. There is no doubt that anyone — who participated in the holiday in previous years — would agree that the forum is gaining momentum every new year. Its six days pleased with premieres and a prestigious international contest of singers of Italian opera: Compеtizione Dell’Opera. Really, this one of the brightest events of the Bolshoi Theatre.
Everyone who falls in love with opera has his own affair with this art — which lasts all life long. Accordingly, these fans have their own preferences among performances, singers and conductors. Moreover, they boast a possibility to ‘open’ new names. While listening to young singers, I — personally — marked out some of them whose artistic fate would be interesting for me in the future; I’d definitely wish them all possible artistic luck. Naturally, vocal singing is singing to a subjective view — as any other art. It often happens that someone’s personal opinion does not coincide with a public view. My preference — Maria Semochkina — failed to win an award, although reaching the finals alongside other 12 singers from Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Korea. Pleasingly, she attracted attention of some of my colleague-journalists as well. Moreover, two of the Bolshoi Theatre’s acknowledged soloists warmly spoke of Maria during the second round, noting that the lady understands what she is singing about. No doubt, understanding is vital for an operatic artiste and I have no doubts that Maria would have her own wins in the future; her delicate and serene soprano is as rich as her beauty and womanhood. Maria probably lacks technique or something special in singing top notes (which is definitely important for an operatic singer and cannot but noticed by professionals). However, she impresses with a restrained internal drama and a wonderful voice. When listening to Ms. Semochkina during the second round, I thought that her ‘nature’ would have perfectly suit Eugene Onegin’s Tatiana Larina. Maria’s ability to feel deeply is evident but she fails to fully reveal it due to her young age. I once read an interview with a Russian opera diva — Yelena Obraztsova; she said that a true culture of singing is based not only on a virtuoso capability of singing but life experience as well. According to her, much must be lived through, read and seen before coming on stage and talking to the audience. A good singer must suffer, cry, lose, find, love... Meanwhile, the youth uses the privilege of life: to often live it in the state of joy, an accelerated rhythm and a desire to be ahead of time. As a result, some young people fail to reveal the complicated feelings (natural to experienced or God-kissed performers) in singing operatic solo. Moreover, as Ms. Obraztsova noted, in a desire to earn more money, many young singers start working over a complicated repertoire which they have no strength to cope with; as a result, their career finishes quickly — though its beginning was brilliant...
As operatic specialists admit, some singers are traditionally unsuccessful at contests. However, this is not Ms. Semochkina’s case of course. In the past, she many times won awards and diplomas and, no doubt, was pleased to win a Grand Prix at the 3rd International Festival of Slavic Music in Moscow (2007). In addition, she was acknowledged among the best (being awarded a diploma) at the Yelena Obraztsova International Contest of Young Operatic Singers, in 2009; the event awarded no Grand Prix then. At present, the singer studies at the P.I. Tchaikovsky Moscow State Conservatory’s Solo Singing Department, also singing at the Chamber Musical Theatre since 2011. In the finals of the contest, Maria sang Donna Anna’s role (in The Libertine Punished, or Don Juan), deserving our respect. The Bolshoi Opera soloists — Anatoly Sivko and Ilya Silchukov — deserve our praise as well; in the past, they won several prestigious international contests (representing Belarus).
Compеtizione Dell’Opera took place for the first time in 1996 and, in 16 years of its existence, it’s become among the largest contests in the world. In 2001, it was hosted by Dresden and, in 2011, Russia’s Bolshoi Theatre (in Moscow) housed its semi-finals and finals. This year, the preliminary singing events took place in Vienna, Dresden, Sochi, Moscow and Minsk. The finals are traditionally organised as a public concert.
I’d wish to stress that all finalists are worthy of recognition — singing in Italian under the accompaniment of the Bolshoi Theatre Symphony Orchestra (conducted by Spain’s Daniel Montane). Ancient and 20th century Italian music was performed — in line with the contest rules. Before the winners were announced, flowers and diplomas of participants were presented to all finalists. Each of them attracted special attention; some surprised with their personal interpretation of the performed characters, others impressed with their voice or the feeling of music. Importantly, some singers presented themselves in an artistic manner; artistry of Russia’s Karine Kerunts attracted the jury’s attention — being praised by representatives of Linz’s Brucknerhaus and the Latvian National Opera (whose General Director and a jury member, Andrejs Jagars awarded the young singer with a diploma). According to the jury chair, a famous German producer, the Director of the German Bremen theatres and an organiser of the Dresden Opera Ball — Prof. Hans-Joachim Frey, it’s very important how a soloist represent themselves on coming to an operatic stage. No doubt, other features must be present and — if they organically combine — a Grand Prix award is inevitable.
The jury was grand, featuring heads and leading artistes from opera theatres of Germany, Austria, the UK, Switzerland, Bulgaria, Estonia, Lithuania, Russia, Ukraine, Georgia and Belarus. Their winning choice was Uzbekistan’s Rahim Mirzakamalov — a soloist at the A. Navoi State Academic Bolshoi Theatre. Rahim was also awarded a special prize by the Lvov National Opera and Ballet Theatre, also being invited to take part in the theatre’s concert or performance. This singer attracted my attention as well, during the second round. In view, the holder the first prize does not match the context of the five positions — as enumerated by Mr. Frey during his meeting with journalists. Really, Rahim can represent himself and demonstrates a perfect technique. Moreover, his baritone is strong. Nevertheless, I lacked the dramatic depth, which I noticed in Ms. Semochkina.
The second place went to a very ‘technical’ soloist of the Ukrainian National Opera — Darya Knyazeva (soprano); she demonstrated a strong voice and powerful character. The singer was also invited to perform at the A. Navoi State Academic Bolshoi Theatre and German Erfurt Opera Theatre. The third place was awarded to Ayuna Bazargurueva, from Buryatia’s State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre (named after Tsydynzhapov). Six best finalists — including Karine Kerunts — were engaged by directors of European opera theatres; their names were announced at the awarding ceremony which took place in the atmosphere of strong audience’s ovation. Actually, the ceremony was a show in itself. Public recognised jury members and stars of the global operatic art who came to stage to award winners with diplomas (jointly with directors of opera theatres). These experienced singers demonstrated their mastery next day, during the gala-concert.
It’s a true holiday to come to an opera theatre as the elite operatic art always inspires lofty feelings. As a rule, the latter are experienced by well prepared public — true theatre goers who love emotions aroused during an opera performance. I don’t remember the name of a teacher (training singers’ voice) who said that emotions are a key to opera understanding. If — being a spectator — you trust these emotions, then you’d definitely feel the symphony of music and singers’ vocal capabilities which are unlikely to arouse some insignificant feelings. In turn, they would bring you associations with your own life — opening the layers which are seemingly forgotten forever. An opera is a supreme miracle and — I’d love to repeat another time — each has their own affair with this art. Mine started in the childhood when — on hearing a radio version of A. Alyabiev’s The Nightingale — I tried to repeat its melody and coloratura. I then strained my voice. Of course, at that time, I knew nothing of opera. I also had little understanding of the fact that a person might lack a capability of singing.
At that time, I learnt from my parents of my countrywoman — an operatic singer, Yevgenia Miroshnichenko, who later became a People’s Artiste of the USSR and the Hero of Ukraine. My father and mother told me that the lady was born in the village of Pervoe Sovetskoe — not far from my native Volchansk (in the Kharkov Region). I was proud of this fact then. Actually, opera was coming to my life with my senior brother’s help; he took part in an amateur singing team then. During one of the concerts, Yuri’s singing was heard by a Kiev specialist. My brother sang Whether Russians Wish a War then and I remember crawl while listening to his performance. Yuri boasted a rare bass and some even said that he could have become a second Fiodor Shalyapin (if he entered the Kiev Conservatory and developed his talent). The Conservatory was ready to accept him without examination but my brother had already a family of his own and his daughter was due to be born at that time... At present, his three daughters sing wonderfully and I even advise his younger girl not to lose her talent for singing. On becoming a Kiev University student, I listened to Ms. Miroshnichenko at the Kiev Opera Theatre but, after leaving for Belarus, I forget of the singer for some time. The recent Minsk Forum aroused recollections of how my friendship with the operatic art started.
Of course, I compared Ms. Miroshnichenko’s serene and accurate voice with the voice of those I’ve heard earlier. Her talent is God-given and Yevgenia’s perfect combination of vocal mastery and drama is truly rare. It’s a great pleasure to realise that there are such artistes among Belarusians. Among them is definitely Oksana Volkova — an Honoured Artiste of Belarus and a ‘golden’ voice of the country (as experts admit). She is known all over the globe and her lyrical and unusually beautiful mezzo-soprano combines with the talent of drama — as seen by her singing Amneris’ part in Aida (which I recently listened to, during the National Award days) and also Grey Legend. Ms. Volkova’s temperamental Lyubka is a strong and bright character, impressing with the depth of her passion and sensuality. You cannot but feel passion for her, although she is not Belarus’ symbol — in distinction from Irina. The latter is a bond of Yekaterina Golovleva whom noble Roman — performed by Russia’s Honoured Artiste, Roman Muravitsky — loves. The character of Kizgailo is performed by Stanislav Trifonov.
The performance is a ‘love triangle’ story. In the early 17th century, noble Kizgailo is getting married — near Mogilev and his friend — Roman Rakutovich — admits that he is planning to marry Kizgailo’s bond Irina. Kizgailo is shocked: a noble man could not marry an ordinary girl. However, Roman is insistent and his friend agrees eventually. However, Kizgailo’s wife Lyubka is against the marriage: she is in secret love with Roman. Lyubka forces her husband to send Irina to prison. The men’s friendship is broken and Rakutovich decides to attack Kizgailo’s castle. During the fight, the host is killed and Lyubka reveals her feelings to Roman. However, the latter hurries to Mogilev to free Irina; his troop is defeated sadly. Roman is captivated, awaiting for a dreadful punishment: the cut of his hand. Lyubka, in turn, demands Irina to turn Roman away — otherwise, she’ll lose her sight. The lovers are being tortured but they remain faithful to their feeling...
Years after, the first edition of Dmitry Smolsky’s musical version (based upon Vladimir Korotkevich’s libretto) was staged by Mikhail Pandzhavidze, at the Bolshoi Theatre. Interestingly, this aesthetic Belarusian-language performance received the 2012 ‘Spiritual Revival’ Award of Belarus’ President Alexander Lukashenko (traditionally organised in early January) and, this year, it opened the Christmas Forum — under the accompaniment of the Symphony Orchestra conducted by Ukraine’s Honoured Artiste — Victor Plaskina. A national opera performance at the Forum ensured a qualitative launch of the event, with audiences able to enjoy a ‘canvas’ of times of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania — including the beginning of its split and the awakening of the national self-consciousness. However, in distinction from the first edition (which mostly focused on social issues), the present show is targeted at love; this feeling reigns at all times, even against the background of dramatic social events — defeating death, social and family strives.
Each time, the performance of the most talented singer conquers audiences’ love: really, it’s impossible to ‘buy’ success — even with help of PR campaigns or any merits of the past. The same approach applies to a show — especially if it’s born anew for the second time. Of course, it was risky to stage the play at the Forum as, in 1978, Grey Legend, was a huge success — being staged for several seasons. However, the risk was truly noble: the opera — using composer Smolsky’s new music — sounded as if it was a different play, impressing with eye-catching scenes, beautiful melodies and wide vocal possibilities. Its overture inspires to spiritually participate in the show; there is an impression that we are listening to something well known but the feeling of a novelty also never leaves.
Pleasingly, our morally fresh national opera has been performed at the Forum. Moreover, it’s a true joy that our Belarusian language — being placed second after Italian in melodiousness by the UNESCO classification — has been heard by global celebrities: the jury members. Mr. Muravistky was also great; his Belarusian language singing was serene. Our ‘ў’ letter — which no other language of the globe uses — was perfectly pronounced by the Russian singer.
Like renewed Aida, Grey Legend brightly demonstrates Mr. Pandzhavidze’s passion for an epochal approach. The chief director loves scenes involving many actors which he regularly intermix with vocal singing. Actually, all components of Grey Legend works well and scene decorations by Alexander Kostyuchenko are impressive; as if the opera itself, its expressiveness is strengthened by multimedia effects — creating an impression of a film. The background curtain of a black net has its purpose as well — serving as a screen for video projection and simultaneously creating an effect of the time distance. The latter seems hiding the truth in the past, inspiring fantasy. The construction of two layers — separating the ground and the sky, the guilty and the winners, love and hatred — is aimed not only for artistes’ movement; these ‘floors’ are symbolically hint at our life full of contradictions. Those failing to understand the symbolism won’t lose: Mr. Kostyuchenko’s decorations are based on the perfect taste. The huge festive dinner table is wonderful — with large fake carcasses, jugs with wine and other dishes. The atmosphere of the past is supplemented with candle lighting which well suits the castle mood of the years passed away...
As regards the theatre’s technical equipment, it makes it possible to stage complicated performance involving many actors. Moreover, decorations can be changed endlessly — if needed. Many jury members appreciated the theatre’s unique technical possibilities as it can easily host such a grand show as Richard Wagner’s Siegfried (of the Sofia National Opera and Ballet Theatre) which involves 130 artistes — including soloists, a choir and an orchestra conducted by Erich.
On tour from Germany
Professor Plamen Kartalov is Bulgarian Siegfried’s stage director and the Head of the Sofia National Opera and Ballet Theatre. Jointly with artist Nikolay Panayotov, he staged an opera which dazzles with cosmos, fantasy and fairy-tale surreality. Siegfried is a part of The Ring of the Nibelung epic cycle and has come to Belarus for the first time. This love story tells us of the strength which inspires men and women to approach each other — not only on the Earth but in the Universe. The search of this feeling and holding of it comes to focus, with help of Wagner music (conducted by German Erich Wдchter) which irritates our minds with the aim of finding an answer to the eternal question: what is the key in our life. Moreover, audiences can enjoy beautiful melodies and all artistes’ powerful vocal singing, while thinking of the cyber-worlds which our modern youth is creating in their virtual life. Cosmos is also reflected in decorations, sparkling costumes and multi-coloured lights. Meanwhile, the opera — especially its main character, Siegfried — resembles a comic strip; it’s like a game within a game. Everything which artistes sing of seems serious and simultaneously pathetic — as if we are telling a fairy-tale to children about things which they should not know at the moment. In my view, this is an interesting move. It’s truly funny to observe Siegfried — played by Kostadin Andreev — on the stage; he resembles a teenager who does not know for sure what he wants but is ‘torn’ by a certain power. With this in mind, the main character’s vanity and amusing arm waving have their ground. Of course, anyone would definitely decide for themselves how this fiery flame of the mystical power could be extinguished. Moreover, Siegfried is a wonderful opportunity to get acquainted with a different opera style — which is not natural to our mentality.
It was more customary to listen to one of my favourite operas: P. Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin. This was a new version of the Belarusian Bolshoi Theatre but it was no less talented than the 1996 show. The main characters were performed by soloists of the Academy of Young Singers (of St. Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theatre) and laureates of international contests: Andrey Bondarenko (Onegin), Maria Bayankina (Tatiana), Dmitry Voropaev (Lensky) and Yulia Matochkina (Olga). Prince Igor opera was also perfect — staged by Alexander Borodin and performed by the leading soloists of the Russian and Belarusian Bolshoi Theatres: Svetlana Shilova (Konchakovna) and honoured artistes of Russia — Mikhail Kozakov (Konchak) and Yuri Nechaev (Prince Igor). Yaroslavna’s character was played by Belarus’ Honoured Artiste — Nina Sharubina (who also represented our country in the jury).
Fans and experts of the operatic art deserve special respect. During six frosty December days on the eve of Christmas and New Year celebrations, they co-authored the holiday — presenting ovation and applause to singers and expressing gratitude to all organisers and partners of the Minsk International Christmas Opera Forum.
Ball on the eve of Old New Year
Many of those coming to the Forum also attended the large New Year Ball — held on the eve of Old New Year, January 13, as is traditional. The ball is another creative project of the Bolshoi Theatre and is being anticipated since autumn: in October, all tickets were sold out. This year, organisers prepared an additional holiday for their guests: all those attending joined artistes in a dance programme and numerous entertainments. Opera lovers definitely enjoyed the surprises and presents of the theatre, with amazing pranks, travelling to fairy-tales and future-telling creating a festive atmosphere. Music never stopped, creating the feeling of miracle and happiness of life.
The Bolshoi Theatre’s Symphony Orchestra — conducted by Ivan Kostyakhin — played for the Russian Ball, while the Princely Ball featured extracts of Khoroshki Choreographic Company’s Polotskaya Tetrad (Polotsk Notebook) programme. The Vienna Ball, in turn, was accompanied by music of Johann Strauss and Ferenc Liszt.
No doubt, the recent January holiday was a success which ‘formula’ is simple: as the Bolshoi Theatre staff admit, everything here is subordinate to the beauty and follows the rules of the theatre (with help of stage director Galina Galkovskaya). I personally can confirm this with pleasure.
By Valentina Zhdanovich