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An old, old fairy tale

Marina Zayontz

6 March 2006

The premiere of “Iolanta” by Tchaikovsky has been performed in Galina Vishnevskaya Opera Centre .

Galina Vishnevskaya Opera Centre is an educational theatre that is not burdened with strict deadlines. The work on “Iolanta” began last year there, when the Centre had a new intake of opera singing students. For the first time the Centre has invited Alexander Petrov – a stage manager from St. Petersburg – a well known in opera circles creator and director of the musical theatre “Zazerkalie”. Announcing the premiere, Petrov underlined, “The innovation in our performance is that we are staging it as written.” What is written is a beautiful fairy tale (based on the plot of “The Daughter of the king” by Gertz) about a blind young lady, who wonderfully retained her eyesight owing to love; a fairy tale full of such divine, gentle and sad music of Tchaikovsky that the mere sound seems to make a hand reach out for a handkerchief. In fact, the staging is very much like this – gentle and tremulous, a little old-fashioned and at that wonderfully appropriate to the score.

Of course, it is surprising nowadays. There is not only fashion to remake everything; moreover, actualization of opera is thought to be a necessary step towards new unknown heights. Thus, it is easy to imagine that poor Iolanta lost her sight, for example in the Chechen war and knight Vodemon and Robert – duke of Burgundy – are veterans of the Afghan war. Petrov did not yield to such a temptation, as it has already been pointed out; he presented the audience a fairy tale. The drawn backdrop, small dollish ancient castle (the scenography by Alla Kozhevnikova), naïve masks on the faces of the servants of proscenium. One may say it is old-fashioned. However, who says it is bad? The world of this performance is somehow childly cozy, beautiful and harmonic and, what is the most important, it does not contradict the music, it arranges it right.

Music director and conductor – Pavel Bubelnikov – was also invited from St. Petersburg. It is the first time too that he works in the Centre and it should be mentioned that the change of the conductor turned out to be more than successful. Bubelnikov guides the soloists amazingly subtly, not caring in the least for self-expression. Every part is filigree; one cannot only hear everybody singing but also these beautiful voices of the soloists. In this “Iolanta”, there is not only good singing; singing here is sensible, psychologically appropriate. Apparently, Galina Vishnevskaya worked on this with her students and achieved a lot. Her singers do not strike an attitude in order to perform the part more spectacular. Primarily, they exist right relative to the music and the plot. There are more experienced singers like Alexey Tikhomirov (Rene), Georgiy Protzenko (Vodemon), Igor Gornostaev (Ebn-Khakia), Maria Pakhar (Iolanta) and Sergey Plusnin, who entered the Centre this year and received a storm of applause after an aria “Who can come up with my Matilda?” Nobody overacts or tears passion to pieces. An old knightly legend, naïve and unreal, is filled with sorrow and light by Petrov and Bubelnikov. It does not rend one’s heart; it makes it sink in delight. The pattern of the performance is graceful, delicate and so incredibly touching that critics as well as the audience reach out for their handkerchiefs from time to time. Tell me, isn’t it relevant?