New version of Onegin

Yuri Bashmet enjoys recognition and love in Minsk
Yuri Bashmet enjoys recognition and love in Minsk. Moreover, this year, posters promoting his 10th international festival are competing with those for a concert by famous Stas Mikhailov. For the first time, tickets to the opening show of the Philharmonic, classical music event sold out quicker than those for the ‘king of chanson’.

Brilliant musician and talented manager Yuri Bashmet knows well how to harmonise the world of classical music and mass culture. His concert brings together such greats as Konstantin Khabensky and his wife, actress Olga Litvinova, Zhala Ismailova (a winner of prestigious musical contests), soloists from the Bolshoi and Mariinsky theatres, and musicians from the New Russia Symphony Orchestra. They offer a balance between lofty art and easily ‘digestible’ melodies.

This time, Mr. Bashmet is bringing Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin to Minsk, offering poetry and classical music. The master has many times spoken of an interpretation of Piotr Tchaikovsky’s famous opera and, speaking at a press conference just before the Minsk premiere, repeated that he aims to enlighten new generations to the delights of Pushkin’s novel and Tchaikovsky’s music. It helps having Konstantin Khabensky’s name on the poster but, as Mr. Bashmet admits, it takes skill to successfully advertise classical music.

It’s not the first time that Mr. Khabensky has joined forces with Mr. Bashmet to combine music and drama. Past efforts have been well-received; both are experts in this field, having liaised for several years. In the first version of Eugene Onegin, Ksenia Rappoport and Oleg Menshikov portrayed the drama of Pushkin’s poem. Mr. Khabensky was invited several years ago and, later, was joined by Chekhov Art Theatre actress Olga Litvinova, from Moscow.

At the Minsk show, Olga managed to match Konstantin’s stature only towards the end, perhaps due to her ‘wife’ status. At times, her performance seemed a little rushed, as if she were afraid of forgetting her lines. Nevertheless, the Artistic Leader of Minsk’s Contemporary Art Theatre, Vladimir Ushakov, praised her portrayal, saying, “I love it! I’d work with Olga and Konstantin anytime, with pleasure. The idea of the performance is great, having an orchestra, singers and actors meet on a single stage. The story is well known, even where people haven’t read the original poem (it happens!) so it’s wonderful to stage something.”

Another fan of the artistic duo is famous Belarusian conductor Mikhail Snitko. He attended the premiere, and commented, “It’s a complex show. I love the idea of organically intermixing Tchaikovsky’s eternal music with extracts from the poem of the same name. I love the New Russia Orchestra: it’s an international level team, from whom we can learn much. Wagner used to say that an orchestra must imitate a choir, by ‘singing’, i.e. musicians and artistes playing in unison. The New Russia Orchestra is this ‘singing’ orchestra. Bravo to maestro Bashmet!”

There were many calls of ‘bravo’ from the audience, directed at Konstantin Khabensky and Yuri Bashmet. There was also hearty applause for Ms. Ismailova (who performed Pushkin’s Tatiana), baritone Ilya Kutyukhin (Onegin), Svetlana Shilova and Sergey Romanovsky. The latter was especially moving in his performance; singing the aria What Will Happen Tomorrow? prior to his death scene, cries of ‘bravo’ rose ardently from the stalls.

Being rewarded with rich applause, Mr. Bashmet promised to bring his musical-poetic readings to Minsk another time. Mr. Khabensky has already agreed. They share a love for this type of work, with musicians appearing as actors and actors becoming musicians.

By Yulia Leonova
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