24 апреля 2009

'L'Orfeo' Proves Revelation at Golden Mask Award

Raymond Stults | The Moscow Times

23 April 2009By Raymond Stults and Zsofia Budai / Special to The Moscow TimesFaced with two worthy contenders for this year's Best Production of Opera Award, the Golden Mask musical theater jury came up with the same sort of compromise it has often reached in the past, honoring just one with the award but indicating a close call by naming the individual who staged the other as Best Director in Opera.

The delightful version of Gioacchino Rossini's "La Cenerentola" by St. Petersburg's Zazerkalye Theater emerged as the best production, probably a mere nose ahead of the Perm Theater of Opera and Ballet's ambitious and profoundly moving version of Claudio Monteverdi's four-century-old "L'Orfeo," while "L'Orfeo" brought Georgy Isaakyan the award as best director. The jury's approval of both productions was further evidenced by its choosing Zazerkalye maestro Pavel Bubelnikov as Best Conductor in Opera and Ernst Heidebrecht as Best Designer in Musical Theater for his "L'Orfeo" decor.

Both productions lacked a certain authenticity, "La Cenerentola" with its absence of true Rossini voices and its recitative sung in Russian, "L'Orfeo" with an orchestra made up mostly of modern instruments and a cast of nonspecialists in music of the 17th century. Yet only the most ardent snobs and purists would likely deny that both productions emerged as compelling musical theater.

The ups and downs of "La Cenerentola" were commented on at length in The Moscow Times. It was also mentioned that "L'Orfeo" might prove the revelation of this year's Golden Mask operatic competition. And to the one who wrote those words, it turned out to be just that.

The first performance of "L'Orfeo," in 1607, took place in a room of the Ducal Palace in the Italian city of Mantua. Perm's version, for the most part, played out on a similarly small scale, with both the audience and all but one scene of the opera confined to the stage of the Operetta Theater. The one exceptional scene, however, served as the production's moment of sheer magic. As Orpheus embarked on the tragic journey to rescue his beloved Eurydice from Hades, curtains suddenly parted to reveal the theater's darkened auditorium, peopled with the ghosts of the departed. That moment alone seemed surely enough to entitle director Isaakyan to his Golden Mask.

Perm's cast of soloists sang with considerable elegance, and its chorus proved particularly adept at dealing with Monteverdi's madrigal-like choral episodes.

By judiciously avoiding vibrato, the strings of the orchestra came remarkably close to sounding like an early-music ensemble, while a pair of specialists from Moscow produced an authentically ancient-sounding accompaniment to the recitative on lutes and other strummed instruments.

Among the other individual Golden Mask winners in opera, the most deserving of all was mezzo-soprano Kristina Kapustinskaya, whose superb singing and stage performance were largely what made the Mariinsky Theater production of Rodion Shchedrin's "The Enchanted Wanderer" worth enduring.

This year's festival offered an eclectic collection of ballet and modern dance productions, with companies from Ekaterinburg, Novosibirsk, Perm and St. Petersburg presenting the best that they had to offer alongside three nominated productions of the Bolshoi Theater. The festival's jury, however, was singularly captivated by ballerina Diana Vishneva and awarded prizes both to her and to a production that was conceived especially to showcase her extraordinary talents.

"Diana Vishneva: Beauty in Motion," a joint U.S.-Russian ballet project masterminded by impresario Sergei Danilyan, walked away with the awards for Best Production of Ballet and Best Female Dancer, as well as one of the festival's two critics' prize. And the program of three one-act ballets choreographed for the internationally admired Mariinsky Theater prima ballerina did indeed stand apart from the rest of the field.

Perhaps the program failed to make full use of Vishneva's formidable gifts. For one, it included very little of what could be called classical choreography, something in which Vishneva truly excels. But it did allow her to shine in some imaginative and inventive pieces. The ballets created by Moses Pendleton ("F.L.O.W.") and Dwight Rhoden ("Three Point Turn") both explored and played with the physical limits of Vishneva's technique, the former placing her on the floor on a mirror in a sensuous duet with herself and the latter pairing her with the formidable U.S. contemporary dancer Desmond Richardson in a high-energy, sexually charged romp on stage.

Igor Zelensky received the prize for Best Male Dancer for his performance in the Novosibirsk Theater of Opera and Ballet's production of "La Bayadere," which he also staged in his capacity as the company's artistic director. Even after a career spanning two decades, Zelensky proved that he still has the technique and charisma to charm and delight audiences. A special jury prize was bestowed on Bolshoi dancers Natalia Osipova and Vyacheslav Lopatin for their bewitching duet in the theater's Golden Mask-nominated production of "La Sylphide."

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