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Vishnevskaya Opera Centre unveils A Czar’s Bride opera


28 October 2003

Only in its second year now, the Opera Centre has come up with already its second production, A Czar’s Bride opera by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakoff. While the first production was rather an exercise bringing to a higher relief the excellent vocal potential of Galina Vishnevskaya’s students, the second one is a full-blown stage production. The success is in many ways due to the lucky participation of director Ivan Popovsky a onetime student of Pyotr Fomenko’s who, when still a student, staged Marina Tsvetayeva’s Adventure which immediately catapulted him to international stardom. Ivan Popovsky has spent the past few years producing in France, Sweden and in his native Macedonia. In 2002 he made a loud statement again producing Nikolai Gumilev’s Poisoned Arrow at Pyotr Fomeno’s studio in Moscow. Extremely serious about his musical debut, Popovsky spent long hours and days rehearsing with his students before venturing to show his work to Galina Vishnevskaya who directed the whole production. A Czar’s Bride is very much loved by Galina Pavlovna who once shone so brightly singing Marfa at the Bolshoi Theater both as a singer and an outstanding drama actress. Working with her students, Galina Vishnevskaya never differentiates between these two things.

The two leading female characters, Oksana Korniyevskaya (Lyubasha) with her powerful and deep mezzo-soprano, and Oksana Lesnichaya (Marfa) boasting a crystal-clean soprano which simply sounds too good to be true, proved their acting abilities just as well as they did their vocal excellence. Instead of making it look like a banal rivalry, they managed to act (and sing!) a confrontation between two female traits, that is, passion and sacrifice. In the men’s department the Lykov performed by the tenor Ruslan Apaikin was too eerie and character-less in stark contrast with the baritone of Alexander Kasyanov who, playing Gyaznoi’s part – one of the most challenging in Russian opera – offered a stunningly convincing drive of a real drama actor, especially in the finale where he repents his slander and murders Lyubasha.

All these red-hot passions are happening against the backdrop of a white staircase which the production’s stage and costume designer Alla Kozhenkova makes to provide an optical illusion of a larger-than-real ambience when the main characters get a flicker of hope for happiness only to contract the moment Fate prevails over it all There is another good thing about this minimalist approach though, offering a sudden and deeper than usual view of things. They have no choir department at the Vishnevskaya Opera Centre, which was essentially set up to train lead singers. The Czar’s Bride playbill says: “No choir”. The big sound is attained with the aid of ensemble scenes sung in impeccable stylistic concert with excellent diction where every word is clearly heard even in sextets. Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera has lost very little, if anything, by this lack of a choir. Conversely, it ended up in a more concentrated, more European form immediately bringing to mind the operatic tragedies by Puccini and Leoncavallo. Judging by what I heard that night, they can certainly be handled by the young singers studying at the Vishnevskaya Opera Centre.