+7 (495) 637 77 03

+7 (495) 637 75 96




Not only for the whites

Gregory Zaslavsky

12 March 2009

First festival of Russian culture in the republic of South Africa

In the Republic of South Africa, that is so far away from Russia, there took place a Festival of Russian Culture during the first decade f March. It took more than two years to prepare it. Supported by the Ministry of Culture it was organised by the Galina Vishnevskaya Opera Centre and its director Elena Oporkova. They did not monopolise the billboard, that is why in addition to the concerts of Vishnevskaya’s students there were two gala concerts of Russian ballet stars, concerts by «Terem quartet» from Saint Petersburg and at the very last minute Tatyana Baganova’ Provincial Dance group decided not to participate, as the hall did not suit the demands of the modern chireography. One can tell many stories about how saturated the cultural life is today in whatever small town you go, yet there are always pioneers somewhere. The Republic has its own orchetras and theatres (among recent premieres – «Othello»). In the country where racial laws were abandoned 20 years ago, the plot is relevant and there are many people in the stalls. And yet, happy to see the full Playhouse theatre in Durban, I could not give up a thought about how few black-skinned people there are. For example, you can see Indians quite frequently (traditionally they hold the diamonds market and possess jewelry shops here). But in theatre most of the audience was white. The billboard featured Bolshoi stars, the tour group presented soloists of Bolshoi – Ilze Liepa, Yan Godovsky, Morikhiro Ivata, Andrey Batalov – from Mariinsky, Tatyana Chernobrovina – from Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Musical Theatre, Alexandra Timofeeva – from the Kremlin Ballet. Yet this mixed group was surprisingly harmonious and well coordinated and had a huge success. Someone regretted that there was no live orchestra (they rarely leave for such tours), but the phonogram was properly appraised – sometimes it seemed that the orchestra was hidden somewhere in the hall. They applauded in particular to solo performances by Ilze Liepa from “Sleeping Beauty”, “Le Corsaire” and “Tango”; Ivata’s “Samurai”. Certainly they applauded to the classics, right after fourth – fifth fouettés, to Mikki Hamanaka from Vilnius, for example. But the “Snow Storm” in the choreography of the deceased Dmitry Bryantsev had an equal success. One old lady wearing a black dress told me that she specially came to Durban from Johannesburg. Her parents came from Lithuania. She used to dance herself and now she is happy to see Russian dancers. She also pointed out at the difference between the Saint Petersburg school – “more classical” and rather “emotional” ballet from Moscow theatres. Before the beginning there remained only ten tickets at the booking office, most expensive by the way. I asked one of the last who bought a ticket whether it was expensive. – 33 dollars. – «My congratulations, compared to Moscow, it’s very cheap.» – «I know», he replied, smiling. In the result they had to put additional seats, though the hall constructed by the English at the end of the 19th century is not small, it can host 1250 people. In parallel in Pretoria, it was Galina Vishnevskaya Opera Centre’s soloists and Mstislav Rostropovich Foundation grant winners’ turn to give their concerts. After each part people in the audience greeted the singers with a storm of applause and asked to repeat duets from «la Traviata». «Terem Quartet» from Saint petersburg gave a bright performance between opera and instrumanetal parts of the concert explaining in Russian the meaning of some of the folk songs they presented. Mimi Coertse, an eminent opera singer who worked for many years in the Vienna Opera, came to the opening of the festival – first concert of Vishnevskaya’s soloists with her students. Without offending those people who bought tickets, I will say that the most exciting show took place behind the curtains after the concert that was very positivily appraised by the audience. So Oxana Lesnichaya sang Alexander Alyabyev’s romance Nightingale a capella, then Coertse’s students performed some African folk songs and during this third improvisation act, they all together sang “Brindisi” or “Drinking Song” from «La Traviata». I should admit that the level of Galina Vishnevskaya’s students does not deteriorate. I am saying this not to offend Lesnichaya, who is an earlier graduate, and who is invited to join the Centre’s tours again and again. But for South African audience, for example, Alina Shakirova was a revelation in her duet from «Carmen» with Alexander Kasyanov. Konstantin Purilkin, baritone (Rigoletto) along with the Foundation grant-holders equally impressed the musical fans. Children usually move the audience with their appearance on stage, but a very young pianist Nikolay Khozyainov played Chopin not only technically perfectly, but adding to its performance his soul, that commonly happens when a musician gains life experience and through concerts practice.
Pretoria – Durban – Moscow