Gounod’s Faus unveiled by the Opera Centre’s first graduates
Unveiled in a grand ceremony two years ago by Galina Vishnevskaya and Yuri Luzhkov, the Opera Centre is an absolutely one-of-a-kind institution. Well, no one will ever make you a singer in just two years but that’s not what the Centre was looking for, after all. The singers, all handpicked by Galina Vishnevskaya herself, were more or less technically prepared all and had spent two years learning acting, dramatic diction, dancing as well as Italian, French and German under the expert tuition of Galina Vishnevskaya herself and an impressive cadre of top-notch instructors. The Russian Academy of Performing Arts (RATI) offers a very similar curriculum, but the quality of musical training there is way lower than what you can find at the Galina Vishnevskaya Centre. The Moscow Conservatory and the Gnessins Music Academy offer solid vocal training but not acting skills opera singers need so much.
Hating shortcuts, the graduates opted for Faust – a hit opera everyone knows about and, therefore, a very risky undertaking too. In a sense, the students gave their teachers one better, their zeal clearly exceeding, say, the quality of direction. Director Nikolai Androsov and production designer Alla Kozhenkova had apparently elected to make the students’ task a bit easier and went the more traditional way erecting four Gothic-style doors (the opera is set in 16th century Germany) and keeping the scenery at a bare minimum (a carved-wood desk piled with dusty books Doctor Faust toils at in the opening act, a little fountain in Margarita’s garden). To make things worse, the singers, placed in this terribly dusty environment, were told to act in an equally “dusty” manner, throwing up their arms in desperation and running out like ballet dancers do. The moment I closed my eyes, however, the feeling was that of sheer bliss setting in on me… The divine soprano of Oksana Lesnichaya (Margarita) was at its very best giving full credit to the intricacies of her very challenging part. The moment I opened my eyes, however, I immediately felt sorry for this wonderful young woman forced by the director’s whim to move around as if in slow motion, her eyes rolled up all the time Valentin Sukhodolets (Faust) brilliantly handled one of the highest tenor parts around, his free-flowing voice ringing so easily and pleasantly, filling the hall. Unfortunately, his behavior was equally strange, so hysterical and unnatural. Irina Oganesova (Zibel) conquered the listeners’ hearts with her rare, saturated mezzo-soprano, as romantic as it was warm. Her movements were too feminine for me to believe it really was a romantic youth in love I was looking at…
Roman Astakhov (Mephistopheles) was the only one who was absolutely impeccable, maybe because his was the easiest part – so good that you have to try real hard to look inartistic. Secondly, Roman, acting major, is the only non-vocals graduate of RATI to enter the Vishnevskaya Centre. On the other hand, his acting background did brush off on his singing manner. In any case, the premiere was proof positive of the fact that two-year of hard work made the young singers an excellent, flexible and very professional material for a good director to work on. There are few moments in a singer’s life that can compare with a graduation performance. The capacity audience of eager parents, brothers, sisters, friends and, of course, teachers, reacts to the graduate’s every move with sweet abandon he will never ever encounter again, no matter how high he may fly in his career. When you are sitting next to, say, Margarita s mom who is singing along through it all, or Mephistopheles’ dad who is diligently filming his son’s atrocities, it is very hard not to share in the feeling of absolute, albeit, panicky, happiness. Things will inevitably get harder down the road because after the graduation concert the young singers will have one more hurdle to clear – a graduation gala concert to be watched by impresarios representing top 17 concert agencies from around the world Galina Vishnevskay has invited expressly for the occasion.