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Vishnevskaya teaches grand style


20 October 2003

Ivan Popovski, Moscow s best-loved Macedonian has produced his own vision of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Czar’s Bride opera at the Vishnevskaya Opera Centre in Moscow.

You can’t appreciate anything without comparison. Lambasting the statism of Ruslan and Lyudmila, the Vishnevskaya Centre’s inaugural outing, let’s now say a few good words about their brand-new production of Czar’s Bride, especially after the venerable Eimuntas Njacrocjus s last week’s feeble production of Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth at the Bolshoi Theater.

Time and again the world’s been told that theater and opera directors are two things apart. The techniques are so different that the number of drama theater people, more often than not music buffs, that eventually makes it to the music scene is really very small.

My visit to the Bolshoi provided ample proof of how hard it is for a layman to work with a choir, creating a living crowd of singing people! Or work with lead singers whose biggest dream is to stand still and sing using just three gestures a-la Mireille Mathieu.

Things started pretty much high strung that that night: the Ostozhenka street was sealed off, everyone was being searched and metal detectors were very much in sight. Putin? Yeltsin? Gorbachev?… No, it was Macedonian Prime Minister Branko Tsrvenkovski with a posse of ministers in tow. Before we knew it, a detail of hefty guys filled up the tiny hall.

The Galina Vishnevskaya Centre is not the world’s richest such place and the scenery was all plastic. Ivan Popovski still managed to have the parts and mise-en-scenes all down. Well, at times the groups of singers resplendent in beautiful costumes, all designed by All Kozhenkova, reminded one of the “living pictures” of the pre-revolutionary era, but they still looked very picturesque, they really did.

Sometimes-apparently overly influenced by Galina Vishnevskaya, the director lines up the grand ensemble along the stage like in a concert. The singing is excellent though; the whole act somehow does not slow down at all the audience’s attention switches over to the free-flowing music expertly performed by Vladimir Ponkin and his orchestra.

Sitting in the box, Galina Vishnevskaya was visibly admiring her very beautiful rivals Lyubasha (Oksana Korniyevskaya) and Marfa (Oksana Lesnichaya). Oksana Korniyevskaya’s mezzo-soprano is so strong and beautiful that the hall looked too small to accommodate it. Oksana Lesnichaya boasts a very naturally fresh and ringing soprano. What is most important, however, that Galina Vishnevskaya managed to instill in both profound understanding of the inseparable link existing between music and words. The perfectly groomed voices of the two Oksanas reminds one of the good old days when Galina Vishnevskaya was still shining at the Bolshoi – a grand style that has since degenerated there into vampishness (suffice it to recall Yelena Zelenskaya in Macbeth).

Natalya Levitina is very much alive and convincing as Domna Saburova. The men are not as good as the women even though Vladimir Baikov (Malyuta Skuratov) and Sergei Balashov (Ivan Lykov), and especially Alexander Kasyanov (Grigory Gryaznoi) had diligently followed all the instructions Vishnevskaya and Popovski had simultaneously (!) given them. And, probably for the first time ever, one could easily make out everything they sang – only a professional can imagine the immense input of work done here by their instructors!

Hats off to Branko Popovsky who had to think up a wealth of tricks and compromises so that the impeccability of ensemble singing was not ruined by some “dramatic” head shaking or turning one’s back to the audience. Sometimes there was a bit of overkill when the singers exited the stage moving backwards while singing all the time. Well, it might look a bit awkward, but all the notes and words were perfectly audible. To make this look normal, the director makes the crowd moving around stage in backward motion. All these minor flaws, however, were amply made up for by the vibrancy of the old opera that came so much alive that night Sitting next to Galina Vishnevskaya in the box was the great Boris Pokrovsky – a telltale sign that added additional weight to the whole event. Galina Pavlovna enjoyed nearly as much applause as the singers did.

They say she has a suit right there in the Center’s fifth floor, where she had lived the past few days of non-stop rehearsals. All resulting in a spectacle that was nice to watch and listen to.